The Alchemy of Attention: 4 strategies for storytelling in the Digital Age

There’s an age-old term in baseball known as the “sweet spot”. It refers to the area on the bat where when the batter makes contact with the ball, all the magic happens. For those on the receiving end of the sweet spot, the results have been known to make grown men cry 😭.

Each batter has a unique swing pattern. They even have individual preferences for a particular size, brand and style of bat. In short, batters each have their own unique approach to hitting, but they’re all in search of one thing…

Meeting the pitch on the sweet spot as frequently as possible. It’s a simple but beautiful thing.

Storytelling, like squaring up a baseball on a bat is a simple, and yet incredibly complex endeavor at the same time. Storytelling is the thing that defines our humanity. It’s what separates us from all other living beings. It is also indefensibly how we learn. If you trace the origins of organized learning and teaching back to the ancients, to the stories of Plato, you would realize that throughout our history the story is king 👑.

At it’s core, storytelling is about hitting the sweet spot. Just like batters, us storytellers all have our own approaches, our own experiences to draw upon, and the great desire to get our crack at bat. The storytellers that make the most solid contact on the sweet spot are not surprisingly the most influential.

The alchemy of maintaining attention in storytelling = Educating

A careful study of storytelling yields the understanding that the story is where the eyes and ears are. Because that is where the attention is, and that my friends, is where the story needs to be told. One thing that I know for certain is that if people are not watching or listening, then you are just taking batting practice. You are not really telling your story! For a story to be told, their has to be an attentive audience.

Storytelling is part art and part science. It takes intuitiveness and empathy on the part of the storyteller to connect with the audience. It requires an understanding of what is going to give the person on the receiving end of the story value in that moment, and that determines whether the story was a success or a failure.

Understanding attention in today’s world

Today, attention is being pulled in many directions. Sure, smartphones and technology triggered this shift. Just 10 years ago this was not a significant conversation. But it is not ten years ago. We are here now, in the future, and we have a lot more competition for listener attention than ever before.

It wasn’t long ago in baseball that the metal bat was introduced at the lower levels of the game. Do you know what this new technology did for batters? It leveled the playing field. More hitters were able to make better contact because they had a better bat. Technology has had the same effect on storytelling. We have better opportunities to send one over the fence and make the audience cheer. So, we must embrace the technology because it provides greater equity, but we must also realize that the competition is tougher because of it.

Understanding that attempting to control and manage attention no longer works is the first step in becoming successful in educating your audience in the Digital Age. This is a perennial challenge in schools. In fact, graduate schools of education spend the bulk of a student’s time teaching classroom management strategies and activities that just don’t prepare the teacher to effectively take advantage of the most potent asset that they have, his or her stories. Why? Because they are not preparing the young teacher to tell a Digital Age story. Are these schools teaching the skills of video editing, creating GIF’s and memes or blogging? No, the problem is that these are the mediums where the best Digital Age stories are told.

There is no turning back. As a culture, we have gotten a taste of the game and we like it.

The next step is to realize that complaining about the competition (smartphones, game apps, and social media) will not help you in any way either.

The final step is to figure out where the eyes and ears are going, and meet your potential learners there on those mediums and platforms.

So, if the old ways don’t work any longer, what does?

Here are the 4 Digital Age strategies for getting and maintaining the attention of your potential learners.

#1 Branding

Always, no matter what you are trying to teach, your job is to tell your story. That is what humans have always loved. That is what they respond to. Believe it or not, your story is where the attention is. In order to maximize your brand you will need to develop some habits that are identifiable by your audience. For digital purposes you can rely on a consistent message and catchphrases. For F2F branding you may develop a repertoire of go-to moves. Influencer Casey Neistat is one of the best at this. His double snap and trademark thumbs up are his go-to in his vlogs and short films. They are a part of his storytelling brand.

#2 Video is King…at least for now

Right now, we all have this incredible medium available to us to tell our stories. It’s video. YouTube seized the space first. Then Twitter and Vine made big plays on video, and now you have heavy hitters like Facebook Watch trying to capitalize on it. The power of video is that it takes advantage of the fact that we process images 60X faster than text.

These are some of the tried and true video formats for storytelling that you should be trying to master

  • Vlogging: see the example from my vlog below
  • Tutorials — like DIY’s
  • Short clips — like GIF’s and vines

The trick with storytelling in the Digital Age is that you can’t get married to one medium. When you do, that’s when you lose your audience. That is when your learners stop learning from you because their attention goes elsewhere. Don’t be nostalgic about the medium that your most comfortable with because if you can tell a story with one tool effectively, then you can always learn to tell it effectively using a new more provocative tool, as well.

#3 Authenticity

High quality, authentic storytelling always wins. No matter how you tell your story, if it is authentic, then it will command attention. By authentic I mean that you must to tell your story the way a human being shares something with another human. Don’t bother trying to be like an app or a textbook. You see, our learners today are amazing at weeding out the B.S.. They understand how to process whether your story is relevant and of value. If it is not, the attention will prove it because there won’t be any. You see, as a society we are now growing up culturally in the eye wall of the attention storm that is the speed of culture. The one constant in storytelling that has withstood the test of time is that of authenticity.

#4 Be your own editor-in-chief

Learn to be a fast and lean self-publishing ninja. To do this you will need to learn editing across many platforms. The editor-in-chief is the leadership position that all publications covet because the chief editor has the final responsibility for all of the operation’s content output. You need to focus on sharpening your editorial skills in blogging, video, and/or speech writing to best tell your stories. If schools are not going to teach you these skills, then you need to learn them on your own. Each day this week on my brand new daily YouTube show, The #DailyTeach with Gary B, I’ll be sharing some resources for teaching yourself to master telling attention grabbing stories in the Digital Age. You can subscribe to the channel here: Gary Brady’s YouTube channel

Tying it all together

There is a speed of culture shift going on outside of education. To think or hope that learners are insulated from the shift is foolish. As storytellers and educators, we need to respect the psychology of learners in every context. The context is where the attention is. The mediums that we choose are contextual, but we have to be fluid about which ones we employ and when.

Capturing context and tapping into the emotions in great stories is the answer. It always has been. It is how we connect and learn from one another. Finally, as humans and storytellers we must be capable of listening to our learners stories, too. This is where the empathy in storytelling comes in. It’s where we let the learners tell their stories and we acknowledge them. We have to give them their at-bat!

I hope that you will share your stories and comments below! Always remember, learning belongs to all of us. Be sure to like this, share it, and leave comments! Thank you for your time & attention.

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#socialmedia #education #storytelling #attention