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The art of storytelling: training tips for presenting an unforgettable story

Effective communication is all about making a connection: if people don’t trust you or the information they are receiving, they won’t listen to what you have to say! It’s therefore crucial for a sense of confidence to be established between the client and consumer – and the WRENmedia team specialises in helping build these relationships through the creation of insightful, straightforward and transparent content.

Connections are important across industries; people need to be interested and drawn in, and this relies on the information being engaging and impactful. However, researchers are not always natural communicators, so can struggle to summarise and deliver their findings in a compelling and captivating manner. If the information being conveyed is too scientific and full of jargon, it will not resonate with an educated – but nonetheless, non-specialist – audience.

To address this issue, WRENmedia collaborates with and trains researchers on effective communication styles. This includes providing support in delivering dynamic presentations during in-person events and (more recently, in COVID times) online webinars. For example, our training assisted four researchers at the end of 2021, supported by African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD), in delivering a virtual ‘storytelling event’. The intention of the event was to put a personalised spotlight on the important agricultural work of these scientists, and the impacts they are having in their local communities.

Personal journeys into agriculture

The key to making the event a success – and to achieve the task of illuminating the researchers in a memorable and compelling way to the general audience – meant getting to the heart of why these researchers had been inspired to work in agricultural science.

To discover more about their career journey and keep it personal, we asked the researchers to respond to questions such as ‘What excites you about agriculture?’, ‘How are you working to make a difference?’ and ‘What makes you proud to be an agricultural scientist?’, and to share descriptions of their upbringings and life experiences.

Despite this guidance, initial presentations during the first training session were still rather formal, technical and impersonal, and their delivery somewhat lacking in dynamism. Nevertheless, glimmers of more personal notes provided a pathway for us to encourage more interesting insights. Miriam Charimbu, a Kenyan plant pathologist who supports farmers with crop disease solutions and the adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices, said, “I connected with the farmers” and “I felt I had touched their lives.” Meanwhile, Austin Phiri, a Malawian soil scientist, said: “For me, being able to contribute towards the wellbeing of fellow human beings is my best achievement.” We were inspired by these words and knew sentiments such as these would make our audience sit up, listen and really take note of the impact and value of the scientists’ work.

The researchers were undoubtedly nervous; being encouraged to speak without slides and rely on memory for necessary information is a challenge. Add to this presenting within five minutes and weaving together all the important messages in an interesting and impactful way, and it was little surprise they felt daunted.

We held Zoom training sessions with just two speakers at a time to enable us to draw out more personal details. “My background inspired me to become an agricultural scientist to find solutions to improve rural family living conditions, especially for smallholder producers like my parents,” explained Éveline Compaoré, an innovation systems expert from Burkina Faso. As one of 10 siblings, Éveline held a deep respect for her mother, who worked hard but struggled with low yields and income. “There was no justice for what she was doing as a rural woman farmer; she couldn’t afford to buy what she needed,” she emphasised. Éveline was inspired by the challenges her family faced to help other farmers – particularly women – overcome agricultural hardship, and she now spends much of her time working alongside local communities.

Voices from the field

To help the audience identify with the region and the people, we asked the researchers to present photos on one slide that could be used to provide a visual testimony from the field.

Austin gave an account of one sorghum farmer and his wife whom he’d helped to enhance yields during times of drought: “Mr Muari previously got six bags of sorghum grain per acre, but is now able to get 12 bags. His wife has also been able to improve her family’s nutrition by harvesting the green bean crop that would otherwise go unused.” He described this story whilst projecting a photo of himself, smiling broadly, next to the farmers and their abundant crop; while another image depicted a busy table surrounded by villagers and packed with various dishes from the sorghum harvest.

“Thanks to Susanna and Sophie for the great coaching. You improved our stories and gave us confidence!” – Austin Phiri.

Fatou Ndoye, a Senegalese microbiologist, was also able to emphasise the impacts of her work – as well as the strong relationships she has built as a result. “These brave women learned how to cultivate this plant in the nursery and then in the field, and were made aware of its potential,” she enthused, whilst presenting a photo of herself, arm-in-arm with a group of women farmers, who had adopted pigeonpea to boost their soil fertility, crop production and household nutrition.

The punch-line

Our final tip was to finish with impact – leave the audience with a succinct and memorable take-away message. Éveline did not hold back with her final message: “A shout out to young women wanting to get into higher education – I did it despite my background. We can do it and we are the ones who must make the change – others cannot do it for us.” Miriam’s inspiring message was: “I am proud to be an agricultural research scientist. Agriculture provides food for you, me, for the whole world. Let’s embrace it!”

“It was such a special event full of emotions! You have helped us through so that we were able to speak the language of our heart. It was a great journey together. It was really good for me to look back, reflect and share part of myself!” - Éveline Compaoré.

By the end of the training and storytelling presentations, the researchers were beaming. They had shown that they could completely adjust their style, tell a great story with a smile, and still convey an important message. The science had not been dumbed down and the impact of their work remained evident.

Sophie Reeve and Susanna Cartmell

Would you like to run a similar event? Contact us here:

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