Monday, June 20, 2016

Make the Most of Summer Moments (Our Stories)

On a recent trip to Atlanta with my husband for a friend's wedding, I had extended time to think. Twelve hours to be exact. It has been two years since we have ventured beyond Illinois child-free. Leaving two under two certainly heightened my anxiety, but the excursion also provided me with time to clear my head and explore. My husband and I love museums. From the Lincoln Library in Springfield to all the stops along the Freedom Trail in Boston, we cannot get enough.

While others chose to explore some highly recommend restaurants in the area, we ventured off to the Civil and Human Rights Museum, World of Coke, and the CNN Studio Tour. Embracing our sense of curiosity, we woke up early, walked Olympic Park, and took to the museum campus in Atlanta.  This was a diverse museum experience for sure but each did not disappoint. Much of our trek home was spent analyzing the museums; ranking them in order of experience, content, and construction; and reflecting on what we learned. Admittedly, we're a little nerdy, and I am okay with that.

As our conversation shifted, I began to reflect on the new experience we had created - driving through a small part of the Appalachians, passing through a few colleges in Indiana, listening to podcasts that we had stored for the trip together to name a few. When we reached our hotel in Nashville, where we were going to break up the trip by spending the night exploring this city, we arrived at quite a scene. Enormous tubes emerged from the front doors and every set of doors visible. The hotel manager was in the lobby and kindly informed us that the hotel had an electrical fire two weeks prior. We were to receive a phone call notifying us that our reservation had been canceled, but our name was typed incorrectly in the system. Of course. While we could have found a different hotel, the thought of seeing our girls just a few hours sooner seemed to be enough motivation to drive home. Unbelievably, the hotel had a fire during one of the few excursions we are sure to take in the foreseeable future. And of course, we did not receive the message. Weary from our drive and travels and homesick for our children, the setback seemed insurmountable. Actual crocodile sized tears were shed; I was so tired and sitting still for a prolonged period within two days was excruciating and did no favors for my Fitbit step count. Emotionally drained, we got back into the car, and we moved on. Even though our plans did not fully work out as intended, we created a memory, a story to be shared. Looking back, we now have a moment to laugh at after an eventful, albeit shortened, trip to Atlanta.

When teaching public speaking, one of the best tools a speaker in any situation can use his or her memories. The ability to share memories or tell stories not only fills time for those anxious students who complete a speech to fulfill a requirement, but storytelling also has many other positive effects on public speaking. More importantly, it can provide even the most reluctant presenters with tools that can lead to increased confidence, quality of speech, and even deepen an appreciation for public speaking.

So why do we tell stories as public speakers/communicators? 

1. Stories are engaging and can captivate audiences. 

A good story can draw in and capture the attention of any audience. Storytelling encourages audiences to feel by providing opportunities to chuckle, cry, connect, and emote. Also, audience members can more easily follow stories because we relate to them; we lived them ourselves or we might one day experience them. The structure of storytelling provides listeners with a clear beginning, middle, and end - plot points to mark a progression of ideas. The arc of a story creates anticipation, wonder, and can take listeners on a journey. This journey elicits emotions, persuades, entertains, and so much more.

2. Stories are relatable. 

Teaching a reading course this summer has allowed me to encourage students to interact with and engage with a wide variety of texts. Through annotations and oral conversations, we are communicating with and about our texts. Students are encouraged to make text-to-self connections related to their reading. In a public speaking scenario, these types of connections are just as important to make with the audience. The audience is the most important element of the communication process. As such, effective speakers will carefully craft stories to continue to draw audience members into their messages. 

3. Stories are memorable. 

We all possess moments that define us for one reason or another. We all have experiences that have impacted our beliefs, called us to action, or have challenged us to endure change. Behind those types of experiences are often great stories. When we share those moments with others, they often become triggers or memories that impact others. Sharing something in a story format enhances that impression and makes recalling this information even easier.

One of my favorite stories to share with my students is my most embarrassing moment. In sixth grade, I was singing in a talent show and the doll's - that was supposed to be singing to - head fell off halfway through my performance. While I did not process this until many years later, that moment defined me. Initially, my thought was to run off stage and cry, but I decided that the show must go on, and I sang through the roar of laughter that ensued the traumatic moment in which the doll's head rolled into a group of kindergartners in the front row. I share this story because it reminds me that if I can face that moment of adversity as a small child, I can face anything. It reminds me that our actions speak volumes about who we are and what we believe. And really, it's funny. I have to laugh at myself... and let my students laugh at me too every once in a while. 

4. Stories enhance our relationships and allow us to share the human experience on a much deeper level. 

Whether it is laughing at an embarrassing moment, simply sharing what we did over the weekend, or revealing a life-altering experience, sharing stories and moments of our lives make us human. Students want to relate to their peers and their teachers. They learn better and are engaged more deeply if the classroom environment encourages and fosters relationships. As I'm listening to podcasts this summer on my walks with my daughters (They nap. I exercise. It's great.), I cannot help but find inspiration in those who have observed and lived life fully. Historically and in the present, there are so many amazing stories and people who created them. I want to continue to experience and learn as much as possible so that I can pass that on to my students. 

As an educator, I want to share my stories with my students. I want them to know me, feel comfortable with me, and remember our learning experiences together. As such, this summer I hope to create more memories, acquire new knowledge, and more importantly reflect on how my daily encounters shape who I am. Modeling effective storytelling can encourage students to share their experiences, find their voices, and develop confidence as speakers in a fast-paced, communicative world. Experiencing the world, enjoying each moment, and making memories will not only help me to become a better, more energized educator in August but also allow me to appreciate life and enjoy the moments as they come.
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