Doesn’t Anyone Know the Value of a Story?

I’ve spent the last two days at the University of Michigan attending my son Benjamin’s freshman orientation.  The school had a  well-organized series of sessions for parents. And it reinforced for me one major point about public speaking.

Almost no one knows the value of a story.

Over and over college administrators, health professionals, professors, and public safety professionals would stand up to talk to us about what our kids could expect at the University of Michigan. And over and over we’d get a series of bullet points, delivered somewhat randomly.

You’d think an English professor of all people would understand the value of a story. I was an English major and can tell you that all we did was read, think and write about stories. 

Yet when this lovely professor stood to talk about how to succeed academically, all she could produce was a series of somewhat random thoughts. “Be sure to build a relationship with the professors,” she said. “It’s a good idea to do a little bit of work on all your courses every day.”  “Don’t procrastinate.” Blah, blah blah. 

Couldn’t she just tell me one story about someone who did it right? Or someone who did it wrong?

Leave it to the tiniest voice to give a lesson to everyone. That voice was from a rather awkwark sophmore woman who was asked to stand in front of this group of 200 parents and talk about how to select classes.

She walked to the front of the room, looking a little nervous.  But she stood nice and straight with her hands at her sides as she proceeded to tell us about how she found herself taking an unusual course her freshman year.

“I had taken German in high school,” she explained. “But when I started looking through the course catalog, I found so many interesting courses, I wanted to take something unusual.”

So she took Yiddish.  And she found it hard but rewarding. “I think it’s important to take some courses just because you find them interesting,” she said. “It’s just another way to take advantage of this great university.”

Wonderful!  Of all the messages I’ve gotten over the last two days, that message is the one that sticks more than any others. And it’s because it came through a story.

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