Storytelling for test professionals

slides & notes from an RTC'17 workshop

Posted by Alexander Todorov on Tue 03 October 2017

This is a very condensed brief of an 8 hour workshop I visited earlier this year held by Huib Schoots. You can find the slides here.

Storytelling is the form in which people naturally communicate. Understanding the building blocks of a story will help us understand other people's motivations, serve as map for actions and emotions, help uncover unknown perspectives and serve as source for inspiration.

Stories stand on their own and have a beginning, middle and an end. There is a main character and a storyline with development. Stories are authentic and personal and often provocative and evoke emotions.

7 basic story plots

  1. Overcoming the Monster
  2. Rags to Riches
  3. The Quest
  4. Voyage and return
  5. Comedy
  6. Tragedy
  7. Rebirth

From these we can derive the following types of stories.

6 types of stories

  1. Who am I (identity stories)
  2. Why am I here (motive and mission stories)
  3. Vision stories (the big picture)
  4. Future scenarios (imagining the future)
  5. Product stories (branding)
  6. Culture stories (a sum of other stories)

12 Common Archetypes

Each story needs a hero and there are 12 common archetypes of heroes. More importantly you can also find these archetypes within your team and organization. Read the link above to find out what their motto, core desire, goals, fears and motives are. The 12 types are

  1. Innocent
  2. Everyman
  3. Hero
  4. Caregiver
  5. Explorer
  6. Rebel
  7. Lover
  8. Creator
  9. Jester
  10. Sage
  11. Magician
  12. Ruler

6 key elements of a story

  1. Who's the hero?
  2. What is their desire?
  3. What is stopping them?
  4. What is the turning point?
  5. What are their insights?
  6. What is the solution?

Dramatic structure and Freytag's pyramid

"Freytag's pyramid"

One of the most commonly used storytelling structures is the Freytag's Pyramid. According to it each story has an exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution. I think this can be applied directly when preparing presentations even technical ones.

The Hero's journey

Successful stories follow the 12 steps of the hero's journey

  1. Ordinary world
  2. Call to adventure
  3. Refusal of the Call
  4. Meeting the mentor
  5. Crossing the threshold (after which the hero enters the Special world)
  6. Tests, allies and enemies
  7. Approach
  8. Ordeal, death & rebirth
  9. Rewards, seizing the sword
  10. The road back (to the ordinary world)
  11. Resurrection
  12. Return with elixir

As part of the workshop we worked in groups and created a completely made up story. Every person in the group was contributing couple of sentences from their own experiences, trying to describe the particular step in the hero's journey. At the end we told a story from the point of view of a single hero which was a complete mash-up of moments that had nothing to do with each other. Still it sounded very realistic and plausible.

Storytelling techniques

SUCCESS means Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, Stories. To use this technique find the core of your idea, grab people's attention by surprising them and make sure the idea can be understood and remembered later. Find a way to make people believe in the idea so they can test it for themselves, make them feel something to understand why this idea is important. Tell stories and empower people to use an idea through narrative.

STAR means Something They will Always Remember. A STAR Moment should be Simple, Transferable, Audience-centered, Repeatable, and Meaningful. There are 5 types of STAR moments: memorable dramatization, repeatable sound bites, evocative visuals, emotive storytelling, shocking statistics.

To enhance our stories and presentations we should appeal to senses (smell, sounds, sight, touch, taste) and make it visual.

I will be using some of these techniques combined with others in my future presentations and workshops. I'd love to be able to summarize all of them into a short guide targeted at IT professionals but I don't know if this is even possible.

Anyway if you do try some of these techniques in your public speaking please let me know how it goes. I want to hear what works for you and your audience and what doesn't.

Thanks for reading and happy testing!

tags: fedora.planet, QA

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