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Teaching a storytelling approach

Updated: Nov 22, 2022

Understanding science is key to our everyday lives. So it is critical that science can be not only understandable but interesting. Delivering training to encourage researchers to tell a story is key to WRENmedia’s approach to providing more impactful and memorable presentations.

Susanna Cartmell, WRENmedia director, delivering training for eight teams of researchers ahead of the 2022 AGRF in Kigali ©IPAR

Everything we do from breathing, moving and how we interact with the world depends on science. However, too often, research comes across as boring and full of jargon and people zone out, even those who should be interested in the topic! At WRENmedia, we are passionate about ‘ditching the jargon’ and working with researchers to tell a great story – not just give a PowerPoint presentation that is too long and full of text and too many bamboozling figures. After all, if an audience is reading your slides, they simply cannot listen to what you have to say, so what then is the point of your presentation?

For many years, we have had the privilege of working with the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC) to provide communication support for their projects. For the past few years, we have been working alongside eight research teams under the second phase of the Cultivate Africa’s Future (CultiAF) initiative, which is jointly supported by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). Working across East and Southern Africa, the CultiAF teams are all working to improve food security and several projects also enhance climate resilience.

Previously, WRENmedia only provided face-to-face training but during the course of the pandemic, we adapted to deliver training virtually. Whilst we will continue to offer online training, it was a real pleasure to return to face-to-face training for IDRC teams ahead of an IDRC side event at the 2022 African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) – the leading annual forum for Africa.

The art and fun of storytelling

Our challenge was to train presenters from eight teams, with only two from the CultiAF initiative having had previous experience of WRENmedia training. The remaining six presenters were from other IDRC projects and the presenters were unknown to one another. Arriving on a Friday, after busy weeks and travel, we had a weekend of training prior to the side event on Monday.

Whilst we had one main goal in mind – to have short, interesting storytelling presentations – a key objective of the training was to have fun, get to know each other and build the confidence of the presenters. As our short photo montage shows, there was plenty of laughter and smiles as the trainees revealed interesting facts about themselves, told anecdotes and took part in a series of ice breakers.

On day one we focused on the use of descriptive language, impactful facts and figures, and building the elements of a good story. On day two, the presenters practised their presentations and keeping to the 5-minute time allocation without using slides and notes – not an easy task. Time was given for constructive feedback and to further refine the structure and messages to be shared.

A key aspect of having had fun and spending time getting to know each other was evident in the support the teams gave to one another as each speaker stood up and shared their presentation. And, on the day of the side event, they supported and rooted for each other as one team as they each delivered impactful, interesting and engaging presentations. Not everyone kept exactly to time, but the critical aspect is that the audience listened to everything they had to share and that their key messages were clear and memorable. Each team was only allowed one slide. While some showed a collage of photos or one figure to illustrate what they had to say, several used no slides at all. We were proud of each and every one of them.

After a successful morning of presentations at the side event, Mercy Rurii, IDRC program officer for CultiAF, provided a final summary. There were many issues raised during the morning, but the WRENmedia team was delighted to hear Mercy deliver three strong, clear takeaway messages that resonated strongly with the audience. “It was such a challenge,” said Mercy. “There was so much to say and I had to keep re-writing my notes but I knew that I had to stick to only three key points as I have heard so many times during WRENmedia training.”

We offer face-to-face or virtual training. If you would like to run a similar event please contact us here:

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