Back to basics: reading, storytelling and retelling

Brand Storytelling

Let me tell you what a preschooler can teach you about storytelling and how people understand the stories we tell?

My preschooler developed an interest in books when he was only six months old. I bought him the usual My First… baby book series, including the ABC and the 123 copies. He loved them, even though at six months he didn’t understand any of the words we were reading to him. The colours and our voices did the trick, plus the fact that the books were plastic and safe to put in his mouth!

Within a week, my husband and I noticed how our baby boy was able to turn a book the right way up if he’d picked it up upside down. We were amazed! But he was our first and we were amazed at everything he did!

Even later, when he was five, he always enjoyed sitting in bed with one of us reading to him, and as he grew up we would read him a story once and then he would tell himself the story from memory while he went through each page.

Because of this quick progress, we stopped reading to him at an early age.

Instead, we retold the stories.

There’s a difference between reading and retelling.

Reading word for word out loud to our son versus reading (silent reading) then retelling the story in our own words. It was important that we did that, for two reasons.

First, because some of the words in his books were new to him and he didn’t ‘get them’ right away.

For example, The man fell overboard would be The man fell into the water.

So, we used words he already knew. We did this the first few times.

Once he understood each word, we changed it back to introduce the original word as it was in the book.

Second, retelling helped him to develop his memory.

Imagine telling your friend a story your grandparents told you about their own grandparents. The story has been told and retold over many years and today you still remember it. It could have changed slightly with each storyteller, but it’s the ‘same’ story, same lesson and you still remember it. Now your friend that you tell it to will remember it, as well.

Selection by criteria

When my son was five years old, he was able to choose his own books. He wouldn’t just look at the colours anymore, he looked at the stories. Sometimes it seemed he was assessing each book as he flicked through the pages before he made his decision.

Did he have a bunch of criteria in his mind already?

Was he qualifying the stories before deciding whether to take the book?

The ones he chose, were they of his favourite characters?

Were they drawn in a certain style that he liked?

If they were new to him, were they exciting to look at?

Did he choose dinosaur books because he had seen dinosaurs in other books? Or was he choosing these books because there was something different in their stories?

He wasn’t reading much, yet. But he could surely tell the stories from the pictures!

Taking advertising back to basics

I’m curious to see how storytelling in advertising and marketing would be like in 10 years from now.

Would we use more employees and customers to retell their stories and experiences?

Would we write their experiences or would we make them tell it so that prospective customers connect with our brands better and as such buy from us?

Also, if we put two job advertisements side-by-side for the same company and same job, one advertisement from today and one from 2034 or so. What would the 2034 advertisement look like?

For now, as my son grows older, I’ll study him and keep an eye on the differences between how he uses storytelling and retelling. Hopefully it’ll become clearer so that I can understand why he selects certain books and why he chooses to re-enact only some of those stories such as Three Little Pigs and Green Eggs and Ham but not all of them.

Image by Tom Fishburne

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