It Is All in the Story You Tell

In 2014, I took the challenge to introduce Mindfulness to the staff at my school.  I had been meditating for a while, and I was inspired by a recent two-day retreat geared towards educators. I wanted to share with staff how it had helped me and how this practice could help them with their well-being and their everyday challenges.   I had an hour to inspire and hopefully start a great practice among my coworkers.  I remember that in planning for the presentation, I wanted to do something simple, bare-bones, to match the idea of the simplicity of meditation. Therefore, I thought the best option was Haiku Deck: it didn’t allow a lot of text, and it had beautiful preset layouts for the slides.

Mindfulness – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Looking back at this presentation, I was shocked to see the amount of information I packed into each slide — and realized that I usually do that.  My belief has been that the slide presentation should be a document that stands on its own.  So, I often created eBooks instead of focusing on the images to support my narrative. The aha moment here: why would people want to come to my presentation if they could have the eBook later?  Thanks to Garr Reynolds and his blog, From design to meaning: a whole new way of presenting, I see the many aspects where I went wrong when starting to design the presentation.

“Design starts at the beginning not at the end; it’s not an afterthought.  It’s during the preparation stage that you slow down and “stop your busy mind” so that you may consider your topic and your objectives, your key messages, and your audience.” — Garr Reynolds 

My objective was to motivate teachers to start meditating; however, I spent too much time explaining the research that it had been done to justify the benefits of meditation. I never made it more personal; I never told my story about why I started the practice. At the end of the presentation, I led a walking meditation for about 10 minutes, but we had little time afterward to debrief the session.  After the presentation, there were a few teachers that became interested and talked to me about it; however, I don’t think my presentation was memorable.

So, if I could go back in time, I would use the new presentation below where I would include my personal story and why meditation had worked for me. I would tell that in 2010, I read the book by Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth, which motivated me to start meditating.  It was at the same time as when my family and I moved to Marrakech, Morocco.  My daughters were small, and we experienced huge changes in our lives.  We didn’t understand the language, the food was very different, and my daughters missed Ecuador.  It was tough!  So, we began as a family to meditate every night, and, even though my daughters and husband weren’t as convinced, I continued my practice — on and off — until this day.

With more years of experience, now I know that people usually find meditation hard because they have the misconception that they should clear their mind, therefore, they quickly feel unsuccessful and quit.  So I would focus more on unpacking what happens during the actual meditation. I also know there are many aspects that get in the way when trying to establish new healthy habits in our lives.  Otherwise, everyone would eat better, exercise, and sleep more without too much hassle.

The new presentation has more pictures an less text.  It is meant to support what I would say during the presentation.  I followed David JP Phillips’ advice on his TEDTalk, How to Avoid Death by PowerPoint:

  1. Focus on one message per slide

  2. Use contrast to steer focus

  3. Use size to emphasize

  4. Avoid using sentences if speaking at the same time

  5. Have a dark background

  6. Use maximum of six objects per slide


Any additional feedback on what I would need to add or change in this new presentation?

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3 Responses

  1. Carolin,
    A stunning transformation for your presentation on mindfulness. You had good intentions the first time but now you found a way to make it more about your story and help people experience ‘mindfulness’. But what about after the presentation? You mention “My belief has been that the slide presentation should be a document that stands on its own. So, I often created eBooks instead of focusing on the images to support my narrative. The aha moment here: why would people want to come to my presentation if they could have the eBook later?”

    I would ask, “Would they read the eBook later if they hadn’t attended your presentation?” The presentation is the experience and we can share additional supporting resources in a variety of ways. For example, I’ve added a couple slides at the end of a Google Slide presentation with resources and more detailed information that I just refer to and then share the Google Slides with participants. (or added my speaker notes to the slides after and then shared) The ability to easily share documents, create sites and use social media related to our ‘face to face’ interactions allows us focus on our story and our participants’ experiences ‘during’ and provide support and extension of learning ‘after’. So you don’t have to give up on your Mindfulness eBook – it can be a companion to your presentation!

  2. Hi Caroline,

    I enjoyed reading your post. As soon as I read the first sentence mentioning mindfulness, I knew I would have to comment! I too am a mindfulness meditation practitioner, and have benefited greatly from the habit of (almost) daily meditation. It’s something that has been absolutely transformative for me, and I have recently connected with some of my fellow colleagues who also meditate to form a small mindfulness community in our school.

    I have to admit that when I first saw your initial set of slides, I thought they were quite good! I have produced far worse slides! But, I do agree that your second set is more memorable – the images are more simple, and while the information is conveyed in few words, the main idea is clearly understandable.

    Your post also reminded me of one of my professors from The College of New Jersey, who was teaching one of the classes I took as part of my M.Ed. I remember clearly the professor telling us that storytelling was one of the most powerful ways that we can make our lessons memorable, meaningful, and engaging. Humans are seemingly wired to connect with stories.

    I enjoyed watching the video you posted from David JP Phillips. After watching it, I noticed the next one in my automatic playlist was also about storytelling, so I watched that one too. In this second one (link is active but difficult to see), David talks about what makes stories memorable, and how to use them effectively to connect with your audience.

    Thanks again for posting!

    • Hi Brian,
      Wow! It is great to know that you have also developed a practice. I am trying to be more consistent and meditate every day. In August, I participated in an MBSR course for 8 weeks here in Houston. and It helped me greatly to manage the big move from Quito to Houston, and all the “unknown” that was coming my way. After reading the book 10% happier by Dan Harris, I also have been listening to the podcast:
      Thank you once again for commenting on my post,
      Carolin E.

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