A New Year Brings New Hope–and Old Stories

As someone who develops interpretive materials on a regular basis and does periodic presentations to groups from under 10 people to over 100, I struggle with exactly what to present. (Sort of like I struggle to come up with something to say today, January 2, 2018.)

I’m torn, really, between a desire to develop something new, exciting and innovative each time I develop an interpretive package. I struggle to tell a new, compelling story each time I offer a presentation to a new group.

But the common thread exists–and it exists for a reason. There should be continuity between the things you create. With most architects, there is a similarity to their designs. With writers, one book is certainly different than the next, but the style, the flow, the way characters are developed, all those things bear a similar feel.

Just so with interpretation–be it design, writing, or story-telling. We are individuals and our individual way of telling the story is what gives us the power to make a connection, to make a difference, in the lives of those who listen, who read, who see.

The fine line–and I’m not sure it is that fine–is understanding when to use the best, most developed material you have for your story and when to sit down and develop new content. If most of the people who see or hear your material are regulars, that clearly means mostly new content. But, even then, people hear only part of what you say and they forget much of that.

The more challenging choices come when you provide content to new people on a regular basis. Do you use the same content day after day? Do you come up with new content?

One of the best presentations I’ve ever attended had a spontaneity like no other. It was a slideshow (back in the day when people used actual 35mm slides) through a projector. The presenter showed slide after slide and gave amazingly researched, effective commentary for each image. It was extraordinary.

In the middle of this clearly practiced presentation, he interjected a slide of his young son in a field of pumpkins to show the importance of open spaces and of unique places. He talked about visiting that field with his son earlier that fall. The spontaneity of that moment seemed to lift the more fact-filled parts of the presentation to new heights.

Everyone clapped profusely at the end and left the workshop with a newfound sense of purpose. It really is one of the best presentations I’ve seen, marked by several moments of what felt like perfectly spontaneous moments.

Flash forward about 3 years. The same speaker came and presented to a new group at a workshop. The workshop is the same each year, but with different attendees. He started off the presentation exactly as he did the last time. Of course, that makes sense, as it was a finely tuned presentation. Then came the slide of his son in the pumpkin patch. And so did the same “spontaneous” story about family and the importance of open spaces and unique places. That moment of spontaneity I had reveled in 3 years earlier was exactly the same “spontaneous” moment this time. It, like every other part of his presentation, was carefully calibrated to move his story along.

I tell this story because, honestly, there was no reason for the presenter to change the story. It was a new group of attendees. The presentation had the same impact–everyone left talking about how wonderful the presentation was. Everyone left inspired.

I tell the story to illustrate something I struggle with. Even in this new year, with all the fresh new ideas it brings, sometimes it is better to tell the story as before. If you have developed a wonderful interpretive story of “your” place, feel proud to share it again and again. The more you share it, the stronger it becomes. Polish is often better than spontaneous.

So, in this new year, take time to look over your interpretive stories. Refresh them if they need it, but don’t feel obligated to change your story just to make it new. The story’s the thing.

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