A while ago I had what I thought was an original idea. I wanted to use Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey to incorporate storytelling into training. After doing the bare minimum of research I realized that storytelling is old news but in the effort of sharing my journey, this is what I’ve found.
There are a number of ways you can tell a story; visual, text, video, audio and any combination of the lot. I needed to tell a visual story but I don’t have the talent to put a pen to paper. There are a ton of great resources to help you craft and create a story and I found a number of blogs that recommended many visual storytelling websites but most were geared towards students and children. A major restriction to these websites was the lack of customization. You get images and have to create a story to go along with them which works well for some. Here is one of many blogs that lists them. I came across a number of articles and even free ebooks (sort of) to help you tell your story. This blog post from a few years back give great guidance for visual storytelling. Couple of options that I had never considered for this were creating a word cloud or an infographic to tell a story but if that suits your needs, go to it!
The website that suited my needs best was BitStrips. This site allows you to create custom characters and has a lot of great tweekable strip settings. You can keep things fairly serious or get really wacky (yes, wacky) depending on your audience. This was my solution for the delivery but that was the easy part.
THE TELLING OF THE STORY
When my wife and I have guests I usually prepare something for the first time. It works out well most of the time, and the rest of the time the results are grim. The first few of ANYTHING should be placed into a box and burned. I’ve heard this advice in a bunch of places. Start your story a few scenes early and get to know the characters and the tools so that the rest of the story has a sense of self. Then take those scenes/pictures/video and get rid of it. I didn’t do this.
I immediately got into the story and didn’t spend time getting to know the tools. After I got halfway done the journey I realized how terrible the first few strips were and had to redo them. This has potential to take you down the path of perfection and eventually insanity as you keep going over the same work again and again. I dodged that bullet by only making the necessary revisions and by being under time constraints.
On the development and depth of the story itself, keep it simple and spartan. I failed at this in several ways. I was worrying about how these strips would look on a Power Point presentation which caused me to fill up the frame by stretching the strip top to bottom. After changing a bunch of slides I realized all I had was a bunch of extra background and it didn’t help tell the story at all. Some of the other feedback that I received was that I had too many words in the cells. I was trying to be Quentin Tarantino or Alan Sorkin. This is fine for a screen play but this comic strip that was supposed to aid in training. Yeah, training. Remember training? The story had become my main focus and not a supplemental aid. I love stories and my excitement to be able to create a comic strip for part of a job I already loved was just too much for this kid. Once I got some feedback and took a step back I was able to start hacking and slashing.
I ended up condensing six cells into three, eliminating jokes and minor story lines along with about 50% of the text. All for the sake of keeping it focused on the story that was going to help the learners.
WHAT THE HELL IS FAIR USE?
Another consideration I thought about was the legalities of using the art I created using this website. I looked through the fine print and saw that it was for non-commercial use only. What the hell does that mean? This is the most confusing thing I’ve explored in a while, and I watched Inception. Seek your own legal counsel because I’m not a lawyer but it sounds like, if you make money directly from the subject, it’s commercial. There is the ‘education, fair use’ loop-hole that should be taken into consideration, also. I would consider training education, I can’t think of many people that wouldn’t. There are 4 specific criteria that need to be met in order to satisfy that. And they are:
- The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
- The nature of the copyrighted work
- The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
- The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work
I was still unclear what this meant so I emailed the US Copyright Office and to their credit they got back to me within a day! The most encouraging line that ‘JS’ from the copyright office wrote was “Fair Use isn’t necessarily limited to only non-profit educational situations. There are many instances, outside of a non-profit educational use, that could be considered a fair use.” This was followed up by a disclaimer and encouragement to check out the four guidelines. The long and short of it, I consider training fair use.
FOR APPROPRIATE AUDIENCES
Given that I really like stories, I am predisposed to liking them in a training scenario but I’m not everyone. Get input from a person with different perspectives that you trust. We need to temper our passions so they don’t interfere with the message and that can be difficult to do alone. You can use stories for all sorts of purposes, to inspire, teach, share, and by no means do they have to follow a specific arc or narrative. Whats best is assessing the need and then finding what tool can satisfy that need.