I’ve been fumbling to deliver this story since I first encountered it some six years ago. Here’s the rub: as the story indicates, there’s an effective way to learn to tell a story and a not so effective way.

The Story is Doug Lipman’s. Lipman is a award-winning professional storyteller and storytelling coach (from Boston, Massachusetts (USA)). Here it is, as best as I can tell it, as of this writing:

First you need to literally memorize an original, or some facsimile of it. Then you need to tell it fifteen times — to what Doug Lipman calls “Willing Listeners”, which is similar to, but not the same as “Trained Appreciators”.

The first five times, your telling will be totally broken. But the first five Willing Listeners are in charge of telling you just three or four things that are really great about your telling.

We are talking zero “constructive” criticism. Just “this, that and the other really works”.

The next ten Willing Listeners are also in charge of each telling you just three or four things that really work about your telling.

By the tenth retelling, experience suggests that your telling will be “pretty good” – but if you want to be really good, aka excellent, you’ll need to line up 15 Trained Appreciators. If you have never been any good at remembering stories well enough to keep your audience engaged, that may be why. Fifteen is a jolly big number and a big part of the core problem.

I won’t go into the details of how many times I’ve practiced reconstructing this story and how many of those times involved a Willing Listener other than myself and my beloved computer — mainly because I can’t remember.

In this day and age, particularly (perhaps) in the United States, three to four minutes is a hefty chunk of time to expect from even the most elite attention spans.

So but now we’re going to try it The New Way. This learning tool is new, from h5p.org (in Norway), and it’s just too brilliant for words. Just try it. That’s what this post is about. Just try it.

Everybody can level up their storytelling gongfu. Who wouldn’t want to level up their storytelling gongfu?

That said, here’s the original series of talks from which we grabbed the following transcript. You might want to take the time to watch Lipman live.

He’s really good.

And here’s the story we’ve been trying to memorate.

When you memorize something, you make a perfect copy in our brain and just repeat it verbatim — and we don’t want to say that’s not a worthwhile skill to have. But when you memorate something, you learn to tell it in your own words, and that involves a deeper kind of memory – a deeper kind of memory that studies show is not just more engaging, it’s more flexible, more applicable.

It can morph in surprising ways. Breakthrough problem-solving ways.

Here’s the program: read the story. Practice recognizing the keywords from chunked list in front of you and then retrieving them from short term memory.

Then it’s time to play with the world’s first Trained Appreciator App and practice recalling a short essay.

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Lipman’s Storytelling Story

Ruth is a law professor. She has the job of helping second year law students argue their first case. They do it for free. Their clients are disenfranchised; They can’t afford lawyers and the stakes are high.

The hardest part for Ruth’s students is the opening statement — because that’s a 3 or 4 minutes story of the case from the point of view of the client.

By the second year, the students are pretty good at the law part but have no training in this part at all.

If the law student’s first opening statement is on Wednesday, Ruth would have them come in on Monday afternoon, with their opening statement drafted, allowing 2.5 hours. When the student shows up, Ruth has them put their draft face down and tell the story from memory.

It’s invariably dreadful.

But Ruth is a  Trained Appreciator , so she finds 3 or 4 things to appreciate about what they’ve done and then she says, “come on, leave the paper” and they go out into the hallway and stop the first person they meet. Ruth introduces her student to them and asks if they’d be willing to listen to a 3 or 4 minute story and then come up with 3 or 4 things that they liked about the story.

The person agrees, the student tells the story, and it’s still dreadful.

By the 5th time, it’s comprehensible. By the 10th time, Ruth reports, it’s pretty good. By the 15th time, it’s excellent.

Ruth’s method introduces two tools that are not part of the natural story learning process. The first tool is a Willing Listener . It’s difficult, when you’re just learning to tell a story, especially a complicated or long story, or something that didn’t happen to you, to be able to  command the attention of your listener  for 5, 10, 15 or 20 minutes.

But if someone volunteers their time, and gives it as a gift to you, then you can just focus on getting their reaction from them and not on holding their attention.

The second tool is Trained Appreciation . When you tell someone a story, and they like it, you get a lot of clues about it. But when someone says explicitly what they liked, you know what they were reacting to and you can more astutely tailor your delivery accordingly.

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Begin loading keywords into working memory.

Practice retrieving your version of the story from memory.

The more you do this, the easier it will get to deliver. Professor Kravitz set the bar at 15 times, you might be happy with the results from just one run.


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