Communicate Ideas through Story | Alyssa Demirjian | Skillshare

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Communicate Ideas through Story

teacher avatar Alyssa Demirjian, Head of Brand & Content

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Using Stories to Share Ideas and Engage Audiences


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About This Class

This is class is part of Skillshare's Creativity & Innovation series.

A crucial step in the creative process is communicating the ideas you've generated. Whether to friends, teammates, clients, or investors, you'll need others to understand what you're proposing and get them as excited about it as you are.

We believe that the most effective way to communicate, share, and build enthusiasm for an idea is to frame it as a story. In this short class, we'll explore why stories are so effective, the common elements of all great stories, and 3 steps for turning any idea into an unforgettable story of your own.

You'll never share an idea the same way again.

Let's get started.

Meet Your Teacher

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Alyssa Demirjian

Head of Brand & Content


Hello, and welcome! I’m a Brooklyn-based content strategist and producer who loves to leverage narrative and technology for social good.

As Head of Brand & Content at Skillshare, I lead a creative team using video to transform the real-life stories of artists and entrepreneurs into insights for lifelong learners around the world.

I'm excited by thoughtful, empathetic, and civic-minded innovation, and I love helping to build the community here on Skillshare. If you have an idea for a dream teacher, class, or product feature, please reach out!

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1. Trailer: This is a class on storytelling. Storytelling is a skill that anyone can learn on a scale, that is key to unlocking creativity and innovation. Storytelling empowers you to share ideas in a way that's meaningful, that connects with your audience and build lasting community. Now, my story, we don't mean a novel. A story can be one sentence, it can be an experience. The important thing, is that it's resonate, that your audience feels like it matters. In this class, we'll talk about why stories are the most effective way to present an idea. The seven elements of all great stories and the three practical phases for crafting an unforgettable story of your own. This class is very short. So, that you can learn by doing and dive into storytelling, right away. 2. Using Stories to Share Ideas and Engage Audiences: This is a class about storytelling. Storytelling is how you engage an audience. When you want to truly innovate; communicating, sharing, and building enthusiasm for your idea is crucial. You can accomplish more with others than on your own. But before you can work together, you need to convince people that your project, or at this stage your great idea is a valuable and exciting investment of others' time, resources, and creativity. Stories present your idea in a way that leads to collaborative action. Now, when we usually start a pitch, we rely on reason and logic to present our ideas. We mistakenly think that with only the right facts and the right data, we can win over any audience. We can't. The truth is, human beings just aren't very good at making rational decisions. We do illogical, emotional driven things all the time. If you want to have someone pay attention, if you want your idea to resonate, you need to reach out both intellectually and emotionally. That's what stories do better than anything else. Stories put an audience in a position to have your message resonate. A story can be a sentence. It can be an experience you design. It can be as simple as, "Mike was frustrated with what he saw as limited access to education, and founded Skillshare as a way to create an online learning community focused on real-world skills." Or it could be more in-depth, "Mike couldn't believe it. He'd gone down to New Orleans to volunteer after Hurricane Katrina and was stunned at the devastation and the struggles these communities faced in rebuilding. He saw plan after plan to rebuild things as they'd been built before and he couldn't understand why. How could we avoid repeating our mistakes? How could we learn to create better? To innovate better? The answer wasn't innovation alone: it was building our collective confidence in the possibility of innovation. It was convincing everyone that we could improve. That we could be better. Smarter. A few years later, he turned his vision into a reality. He founded a company called Skillshare." For the record, that's a true story. It doesn't have to be words either. To convey the story of how Skillshare got started, it could be just as effective if not more to show Mike's photographs from New Orleans. Or if we were at a live event, to recreate a traditional classroom lesson and have the audience draw their own conclusions about the chasm between what was being taught and what the world really needed. All of these would create a story that felt immersive, engaging, and memorable. What is it about stories that feels so effective? So resonant? Let's take a quick detour into some science. The truth is, our brain is wired for stories. We write lists, to do's, and shopping lists because we don't remember lists very well. We triple check statistics because our brains don't process numbers very well. Why are we always telling our friends stories? Because we remember experiences. But these increasingly show how stories engage more of listeners and readers brains than the language processing parts alone. Action words stimulate our motor cortex and strong sensory words like perfume and coffee light up the primary olfactory cortex. This is pretty fascinating. It means that a great story gives an experience to your audience. We know that experiences are memorable. So, what is a story? A story is a stylized sequence of events that engages your audience with surprise and wonder. It can use words, images, music, or real things in your environment. It will create a mood and a feeling. It can be inclusive, and expansive, or small and incisive. Traditionally, it's been said stories should have three parts; exposition, confrontation, and resolution and include pity, fear, and catharsis. That can be a useful guide. But when you're short on time and eager to make a big impression, those rules can feel stifling and even overwhelming. In practice, each of those pieces might live inside and on top of one another. Anything can be a story and anyone can be a storyteller. All you need for a good story are the right elements. Once you have that, the structure and delivery will follow. So, let's take a look at some of the elements of a great story then talk about how to put them in practice. Great stories have a hook. You need to catch attention and pique curiosity. Make your audience want to know what will happen next. Three examples: start in the middle of the action, "So there we were in New Orleans." Use vivid imagery, "The city was so noisy my ears were practically bleeding." Or build anticipation with mysterious exclamations, "I couldn't believe it. I was shocked!" Just don't overdo that. Whatever you choose, it should make the audience want to keep listening. If you're not sure what they'll care about, pay attention to what you care about. The emails you open, the headlines you click, and the stuff you read to the end. Great stories have characters. If there's a person in your story to experience something; a desire, a feeling, an action, an accomplishment, you give your audience a chance to experience a version of that same thing. Remember, experiences are more engaging and more memorable. So, two things to keep in mind. First, make your character relatable. If you're with a design crowd, talk about an artist. Play the odds for the biggest impact. Second, craft characters the way you get to know people in real life. We observe personalities and temperaments much more readily than obscure biographical facts. It's how we introduce people in conversation. If you're describing a new friend, you don't say she has brown hair. You say, "She's so thoughtful. She always grabs coffee for everyone before early meetings. Even when she's stressed, she's always down for a drink after work." Make your character first and foremost a person with real feelings, incentives, and fears. If the story is about you, be honest and authentic. If it's someone you want to know, your audience will want to know them too. Great stories have stakes. Stakes give your stories significance. They present risks then build tension. That what your characters care about and it'll make your audience care. Earlier this year, The Paris Review asked Matthew Weiner what he thought about storytelling. Now, Matthew's written for top shows like the Sopranos and he famously created Mad Men: he knows a thing or two about storytelling. He said, "The story is not, we built this great bridge, let's watch people go across the bridge. The story is, the bridge is out, the bridge is broken, I'm going to try to build one. Then it gets blown up right before I finish it.'" Whether or not the bridge gets blown up in your story, the fact that there are stakes, some tension, some bigger force to overcome makes your audience want to pay attention. So, ask yourself, what are the stakes? What does this person have to lose? What's working against them? It can be literal or it can be abstract. By presenting your audience with a challenge, they'll naturally wonder what happens next. Then, they'll stick around for the answer. Great stories have an essential truth. This is different than saying great stories are true. The best fiction has some relatable, universal essential that's compelling. Kurt Vonnegut said, "The best writers have something other than literature on their minds." I think that cuts to the heart of good storytelling. Dig into something from your experience. Think about love and awkwardness, fear and compassion. These are things we feel deeply and they'll resonate with others. They might not appear in your first telling, and the depth of that might come from another experience entirely, but if you can evoke that feeling, you'll have captured something engaging and real. Great stories have strategic details. Details create uniqueness, which inspires interest, which engages audiences, which leaves a lasting impression. But, we live in an age of distractions and concision is crucial. So, use details smartly, not too much. Two things; first, use details that convey more than they explicitly say. Second, use details that reinforce your larger purpose. Here's an example, saying, Alex is nervous about student loan debt, he says that. But it also says he's studious, driven and practical, which resonates more than, "He lives in a six-story building." But, if your purpose is to show how to grow an eco-friendly herb garden in an apartment, maybe where he lives does matter. Details can add a lot, so just make sure to pick the right ones. Relatedly, great stories have gaps. A good story doesn't tell everything that happened in the plot. It picks and it chooses the moments that matter to its purpose, the moments that most powerfully show characters, stakes, and truth. This jump speed the story along and keep it focused and concise. The truth is, there were a few years between when Mike visited New Orleans and he started Skillshare. He went to grad school. He worked for an ad agency in London. His experiences informed the way he's structured and built Skillshare, but he still credits New Orleans as the founding, germinating moment of the company's growth. So, while there are things that happened in between, the story of the company goes back to New Orleans and is more effective when we can succinctly show audiences that connection. Lastly, great stories have a punchline. Leave your audience with something clear and memorable. Meandering endings work in digressive, detouring essays but not well in stories. This is the point of the story, the final impression, your whole reason for crafting this story in the first place. It's what your audiences will remember best. Have a punchline. So, you need a hook, characters, stakes, and essential truth, strategic details and gaps, a punchline. You need all those things, but how do you actually craft a story? There are three phases: First, start with your ending. Before you begin, you have to know where you'll end up. This will give you direction, focus, and criteria for crafting each element. Plus the ending is a great place to articulate your larger purpose. Whether it's to entertain, persuade, or reveal and knowing this from the outset will save you time. Then, write down everything leading up to it. Don't worry about style, just write out the step-by-step facts. Compare those facts to these seven elements, and tweak and style them as you need. Is the character real? Are there stakes? A truth? Cut any detail that doesn't matter and don't be afraid of gaps. Hint, it's often useful to worry about the hook last. Lastly, rework and share. Tell your story aloud to a friend cutting anything that feels slow or superfluous. Once you've perfected the structure, figure out the best medium. Is it better written or allowed? Should you do away with words altogether and try it with images? Consider your resources and the delivery that is going to feel the most engaging and memorable to your audience. So, to recap, start with your ending, write it out, and rework it into its most powerful medium. For creators, artists, entrepreneurs, visionaries, and innovators, it's crucial to communicate ideas in a way that is engaging and resonant. Stories do that by giving an audience an experience they'll remember. If you start with the ending, always consider these seven elements and deliver your story in a creative way. It'll magnify the excitement you have for your idea and build the community to make your vision a reality