Storytelling Session at Expo QA 2008

Eric PughNovember 27, 2008

Karen N. Johnson gave the keynote after lunch on the topic of Story Telling. I love these kind of topics that at first don’t seem very related to our field, but then end up being relevant. I like to say that software development is like writing poetry. We as software developers create something out of nothing. So the idea of software being storytelling resonates for me. However, since I am at a Testing conference, I am curious to see how she weaves the idea of story telling into testing software. Fortunately, being right after lunch, she was very interactive and kept us all alert! The section about picking the words used in doing something as mundane in as giving a status report. Think about what words you might want to use. There are some words that will make a group defensive. There are other words that give a better flavor to what you are trying to communicate. You use different words when you are talking to testers in the trenches compared to developers compared to senior managers or stakeholders. Which makes a lot of sense, everyone filters their message depending on their audience.

She talked a lot about how to paint a verbal picture. When we are proposing something, it’s always better if you can show a mockup. A line drawing of a website, a fake Firefox plugin, or a reference site. When you don’t have those props, then you need to put more effort into painting a verbal picture. Talk about the error message being “splashy red” or the page’s JavaScript “grinding to render”.

To become a better storyteller she mentioned some books, including Presenting to Win: The Art of Telling Your Story. She talks about the need to build your own voice, versus copying someone else’s. I guess this is why when I present, wearing jeans and a black shirt, I don’t come through the way Steve Jobs does! We all need to practice our presentations, experiment with different approaches, and eventually come out with our Story Telling voice. I know that I started out being very informal in my presentations, then I moved to being very PowerPoint driven. Later I’ve experiemented with no slides, just demonstrating code on the screen. Now I am back to using some slides, but trying to do the live code as part of the presentation. With fewer bullet points per slide, and larger more vivid graphics. Still not there yet.. And my presentation tomorrow is completely scripted out since it is in Spanish, and I can do that free form!

I’ll make a plug for my favorite blog dealing with being a speaker: PresentationZen. It really has helped me think more critically about my presentations. I’m looking forward to trying to weave in the ideas behind Story Telling that Karen shared.




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