Last night was very snowy, and half of Chicago was shut down with the other half sitting on the highways. However, the KM Chicago meeting still ran with about a dozen people, thanks to the use of webinar technology for the people who didn't want to travel to the physical meeting.
The speaker was Tim Keelan of StoryQuest, and he talked about his company and the work he does around providing audio of first-person stories. He focused on the concepts of peer-based learning, using and finding stories, and mobile learning. I heard Tim speak on this several years ago, as he was just getting started (just before I started blogging). This was a nice look at where things have come since that time.
What is a story? There are many definitions. Tim is only interested in non-fiction: stories about past events, told by the people who were involved, and told in authentic voice. Stories about the future (even direction-setting) are "science fiction" in Tim's perspective. Similarly, parables are interesting, but he prefers to get the real story as that will connect for the listeners much better than a well-crafted representational fiction of the events in question. I didn't get to ask the question, but I think Tim has the same view of theatrical-style oration: he's not interested in dramatic reading, he's interested in finding the story from the people who lived it.
Critical for Tim is that the storytellers are speaking in their own, natural voice. Voice conveys all sorts of things that the printed word cannot convey. And natural voice conveys more than a voice reading a prepared statement or someone who is basing their discussion off slides or other presentation material. The natural voice also conveys identity: gender, ethnicity, age, confidence, passion.
He has his subjects talk in a one-on-one style, so that the resulting story feels very intimate and the listener feels they are being addressed directly. One of his clients said that the results felt almost "voyeuristic." This is as opposed to a recording of someone speaking to an audience, which can get very boring very fast.
In working with his clients, he always looks for the narrative arc of a story. There must be a climax of some sort to the story: a hurdle or barrier overcome by the people involved. Interestingly, Tim often finds that people gloss over their hurdles, so he has to find ways to ask questions to draw out that information.
Tim's background is in sales, so most of his customers are in the sales functions. That is a business he knows, and critically, he knows the kinds of questions that will draw out interesting anecdotes about a given project. In other words, Tim has enough context that he can see beyond the story being told, and check for more details. If he were to go into another business area, he might not be able to draw out those details, and the total narrative would suffer as a result.
People respect the ideas, thoughts and teachings of their peers far more than that of other people. What is a peer? It's a person to whom I have a connection based on a perceived similarity: age, sex, location, family, company, history, sports, .... The interesting thing about peers, though, is that once I have a connection, I am willing to listen and trust much more quickly than when I don't. When the connection isn't there, it is much easier to look for differences.
From Tim's perspective, establishing that connection - that level of trust - is a key aspect of getting the story and than editing it for the audience. In order to make the connections, he ensures the stories contain as much "connective tissue" (my term) as possible. Otherwise, it is too easy for people to dismiss what the speaker is discussing.
Trust is so critical in Tim's mind that he highlighted trust as the key to making knowledge transfer happen. Specifically, knowledge transfer is inhibited by trust more than any other factor. "Right place" and "right time" are orders of magnitude lower in impact on the quality of knowledge transfer.
Another nice things about the story format and the audio format is that these connections are easier to draw and understand, based on all the non-verbal information that is passed across the air waves in the spoken word. People want to have a connection with the speaker, and once found, continue to look for more. With the connection made, the stories can have a much deeper meaning as the listener hears a peer talking about the real mistakes they've made and successes they've had. There is no "you should do," it is "here's what I did."
In his company, Tim has to figure out how to combine these ideas of Story and Peer-based Learning into something compelling for the audience: other people within the company or prospective clients of the company. He realized very quickly that his audience, sales professionals, are not sitting behind their computers listening to these files. He needed to provide a compelling mechanism for them to hear this content on their own terms: airports, hotels, on the road. Content needs to come to people in their worlds: mobile, busy, learning style, etc.
And the beauty of today's world makes audio distribution quite easy in multiple channels: CD's, podcasts, files on the company web site, etc.
Here are Tim's keys to mobile learning
- Enable the time shift. Don't make them sit in one spot at one time to get the material.
- Understand and use the power of voice (and other mediums). As discussed above, voice is a unique mechanism of conveying reality.
- Build for referenceability, reuse and quick consumption. Make it as easy as possible.
- The way materials are rolled out is critical.
The build-up of this whole talk was presented in the early slides, and the rest was detail. This is my summary of his summary:
- Ineffective traditional learning / training materials mean that traditional content is uncompelling, too big.
- Information overload demands high quality, trusted, relevant content.
- Internal and external communications are different.
- Mobile learning requires consideration of the user.
- Voice - nothing is more powerful.
- Knowledge transfer is inhibited by TRUST.