Book review: The Art of Storytelling: from parents to professionals. The Great Courses

East Tennessee State University: Professor Hannah B Harvey

This is the first Great course that I have listened to. Yes, I’m like all of you. I’m proudest of those ‘important books’ on my bookshelf that I read during high school and college, and always aspire to buy and read more, but … there never seems to be enough time to CATCH UP ON THE LAST EPISODE OF BREAKING BAD or THE EXPANSE or THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL (yes guilty as charged, your honor), much less break away to read a book (hello, for the commute) much less read the CLASSICS (unless of course your high school children start leaving their English lit or Russian lit or Holocaust books around and you pick them up an devour them, just to be annoying to the kids—try it, it’s fun).

So, it was with a mix of apprehension (will this be boring?) and pride (look at me! Taking another class for real! Kind of.) that I bought this and began listening. Thanks, ‘half-off sale.’ Turns out “on sale” Nudges do actually work (a future book review: I’m sitting here on the plane typing this review on my phone while the book Nudge presses against my knee in the seat-back pocket of this Economy seat).

Yes, yes I know. My wife often says: ‘it must be difficult to be you.’ Yes. Yes it is, honey. Thanks for noticing.

I’m listening to this first course. Professor Harvey has a bit of a southern accent, pleasant, well-spoken. A promising start. She’s explaining principles of good story telling, sure. Then she launches her first story, and I’M RIVETED. And then she dissects what just happened. AND I’M RIVETED. A big part of my job is: presentations, pitches for new ideas, new projects, talks to others about our successful work, speaking to laypersons, to programmers, doctors, students to convince them of something or another. I think I tell a pretty good story: some humor, some funny illustrative quotes, some quick lessons related to the story, and then a quick close.

But the professional storyteller? Watch this…


Later in the course, the professor reveals that Little Red Riding Hood has hundreds of local culturally diverse versions. And many were not intended for children. In the version she tells, the wolf is a MAN. A handsome, vaguely dangerous, very attractive man. And darkness and blood and meat and ?string and ?white sheets in the river come into play. It only vaguely resembles the children’s story we all know. And the telling of the story is … transporting.

We learn about point of view, about developing characters and slight variations in voices, using head swivels, facial expressions, tone of voice, stepping around the stage to more clearly represent various characters.

We learn about accelerating time, expanding time to bring attention and create a short story from a longer narrative. We learn about the official role of the narrator, who, different from the heroine, or villain, or bystander, can be unreliable, or unlikeable, or have a complex and different point of view from you playing yourself. Hmm.

We learn about reading your audience, changing the story and presentation, engaging your audience in movements and shout-outs to bring them in.

And we learn about bringing it home. Remembering to tell a story THEY need and want to hear, not just a story YOU want to tell.

CMIO’s take? Give it a chance. I’m giving a thumbs up to Great Courses and to this Storytelling series in particular. I’m going to work on being a better storyteller in the service of improving patient lives. I’m also going to work on being a better storyteller to entertain friends and family and myself.

Author: CT Lin

CMIO, UCHealth (Colorado); Professor, University of Colorado School of Medicine

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