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  • Did I Mention Story: Or The Ongoing Search for Story (maybe I did mention story) and Flow in Loop 202: Professional Development in the 21st Century, Part II.


    Did I Mention Story?

    When I kicked-off this series I wrote the following:

    "It all starts and ends though with the push to increase self-awareness; the need to be able tell one's story, and control one's narrative; and making the effort to build the tools necessary to engage prospective employers. Not to mention, how one engages in a process of applying one's story and tools in an professional environment, whether attending a networking event, an informational interview, or when presented with the opportunity, to be interviewed for the job one is interested in pursuing.

    "Did I mention story?

    "Good."

    And that is good, because while "it," it being the course, that paragraph, and the point of any of this, "all starts and ends... with the push to increase self-awareness...," the class starts with "story," literally, and today I want to talk about story, and how we start to unpack that.

    The Danger of the Single Story

    We open the semester in many ways, but there are two ways in particular I want to focus on here:

    First, the first reading assignment and response paper (see Part I for thoughts on that) is not actually a reading assignment, but a watching assignment. I ask the students to watch the Chimamanda Adichie TED Talk "The Danger of a Single Story." My hope is that they reflect on how often they assign a single story to the people they meet, and that where appropriate, they check their privilege. But I also hope they start to recognize that the world will only be too happy to assign a single story to them as well, and that their responsibility, especially if they want to separate themselves from the job seeking clutter, is to ensure that those they meet, and interview with, are clear that they possess multitudes, and many stories of their own.

    And second, we start building our own stories, and narratives, while building-up to the first presentation of the semester, which is titled, "What's Your Story?"

    Subtle, yes?

    We'll come back to that in a moment, but during the second and third classes the students, and myself, present shortened versions of our stories in a modified Pecha Kucha 20x20 presentation, which is also known as the "Art of precise presentations."

    You can learn more about the coolness that is Pecha Kucha here, but the idea is that presenters share a story, idea, or passion in 20 images, but only have 20 seconds to describe each image.

    In my class we take a 3x20 approach, and I ask the students, and myself, to choose among the following story elements for their presentations:

    Milestones – trips
    Influences/Inspirations – family, books, movies
    Work/Internships
    Hobbies/Passions

    We do this over two weeks, and the goal is two-fold: thinking through the building blocks of one's story, but also learning how talk about these building blocks in a concise and focused fashion. It's also an opportunity for public speaking, which I believe can be a learned skilled that allows workers in any industry to shine.

    That said, one thing I've noted semester after semester, is that these students as a whole are terribly comfortable presenting.

    Also, a side note: I'm well aware that every semester there are students who are introverts, and I will come back to this as well, and some even choose not to take the class after learning the expectations around public speaking. One thing I try to stress, however, is the class is intended to be a lab, and a safe space, and that if they cannot otherwise bring themselves to speak publicly anywhere else, I hope they will take the chance on doing so in Loop 202.

    Storytelling

    In the same way that later during the semester I don't think it's enough to talk interview skills without spending some time learning about Improv, I don't think it's enough though to unpack one's story without spending time talking about storytelling.'

    With this mind, I always invite a professional storyteller to come to class to run the students through exercises that professional storytellers use to prime their creativity. These exercises vary from the semester to semester, as do the storytellers themselves, but the one element they all have in common, is that I recruit storytellers from the most excellent Chicago storytelling institution 2nd Story and I encourage you to learn more about 2nd Story here.

    I follow the storytelling segment in the next class with another form of storytelling through art, always wanting the students to push themselves, looking for interesting parts of their own stories, and cool ways to say them. I have invited a "professional" Zinester, and for those of you shaky on what Zines are - home made, and usually personal, "magazines" - do check this out, as well as an art teacher, and in both cases, the students are run through hands-on exercises, making Zines, drawing, maybe creating an Exquisite Corpse, and again, pushing, having fun, and thinking about themselves, likes and dislikes, influences and milestones.

    It is at this point that I start introducing the Response Papers, and seeding the classes with the more explicit tool-building skills that we will build on during the semester, in this case a piece on networking, or as one storyteller described it, "connecting," because as he said, networking is "tired-ass" language.

    There are many good pieces out there, but I favor "10 Tips for Successful Business Networking,” because it is short and to the point. 

    I've also made an adjustment over time, which is to acknowledge the introverts in class, and the challenges "connecting" may involve for them. And so, I also assign  “How Introverts Can Network Without Changing Their Personalities.”

    And I ask them to consider the following questions as they read these pieces:

    What are your questions and goals? Where are the opportunities?

    "What's Your Story?"

    It as this point that we move on to the "What's Your Story" presentations. The idea is to craft a true presentation, focused and tight, and any format is cool, PowerPoint, video, Zine, as long as the students build on the work already done during the semester, while pushing themselves to look to the future and what is yet to come.

    With the help of my 15 year-old, I've even designed a "Grading/Expectations Rubric:"

    Expectations Rubric - All categories are scored from 1-5, 5 being the best.

    I. Preparation

    Have you organized your thoughts in advance and have you been thoughtful in doing so? Please take this seriously.

    II. Presentation

    Are you taking your time, speaking clearly, and allowing yourself to breathe, and the words to flow? Further, is what you're saying aligned with what your actually sharing with the class in terms of the final product?

    III. Story/Connective Tissue

    Does your presentation tell a story, and do the parts of that story feel connected to one another?

    IV. Incorporation of Elements from Class

    Have you integrated the topics and themes - milestones, inspirations, work/internships - we are discussing in class?

    V. Looking Back. And forward.

    Does your presentation look to your past as a foundation for what you're presenting, while pointing forward to where you want to go, what/who you want to be and how you're going to get there?

    Grading:

    A - 24-25 points

    A- - 23 points

    B+ - 22 points

    B - 20-21 points

    C - 19 points and below

    After the presentation, I send everyone their grades and personalized notes on what went well, and where else they can improve.

    Which Is It, For Now, Mostly

    One final thought before I say good-bye, for now.

    We will talk next time about the tools phase of the class. But for now, I have thrown a lot at you, and at the class, and they have a lot being thrown at them already.

    So, at this point, I ask them to ask themselves what it means to be busy, and how one moves from busy to effective, and then I have them read a blog post from my friends at The Montana Institute titled "Move From Busy To Effective."

    I hope you will read it too.

    And if you have any questions or thoughts on any of this, please let me know.

    Otherwise, speak to you soon.

    Control Your Own Narrative: Or The Ongoing Search for Story and Flow in Loop 202: Professional Development in the 21st Century, Part I.