How Reading to Pre-K Kids Can Help You Become a Better Storyteller

For the past year, I’ve been reading picture books to my son’s Pre-K class. The books come from our collection at home; classics like, “The Snowy Day,” and lesser-known titles that take about 10 minutes, cover to cover. I read with the boys and girls gathered “crisscross applesauce” on a colorful, A-B-C bedecked carpet. The time slot is just after a shrieking playground romp, and just before lunch. I was inspired to begin the routine after hearing about the dearth of dads in classrooms, and the awesome power of reading to young children. To my surprise, I now find parallels between my visits to Pre-K and the point of view on storytelling I present to clients.

Reach Audiences on Familiar Ground

Given the Pre-K bunch are 5 year olds, it’s inevitable that some of them will get distracted. Even in the time it takes “The Snowy Day” character, Peter, to walk with his feet turned out, crisscross applesauce can devolve into complaints from the carpet.

“Oliver is putting his foot on me.”

“I can’t see because Micah keeps moving.”

“When is it lunch time?”

So far, the story that has best held their attention is “Kvetchy Boy,” about a kid whose friends stop playing with him because he always complains. I read “Kvetchy Boy” to the class last spring, when their day-to-day whining had become so grating that the teacher invoked a new class rule: Speak only in strong voices. My sense is “Kvetchy Boy” held their interest because they, too, were wrestling with the challenge of expressing their frustration differently.

In content marketing: For me, the behavior speaks to the foundation of any content strategy: know your audience, and present your brand offerings in context of a discussion they’re already having. Seth Godin writes about this in “Tribes,” when he suggests the power of appealing to an established community of people, rather than trying to build one from scratch. I have to assume this line of thinking helped drive Charmin’s toddler parent-friendly “Sit or Squat” app. It’s also the genius behind Forbes’ BrandVoice program, which integrates sponsored expertise in a way that’s seamless and contextually relevant.

Keep the Narrator Out of the Story

If you’ve ever read to kids, you likely have flirted with the instinct to read dramatically; to act out the words on the pages as if they are your manifesto and the kids your disciples. Well, response from the A-B-C carpet reminds me the stories go better when we just let the words and imagery do their job. Wind doesn’t need to Russshhh!!! in with extra breath. Characters’ exclamations don’t need to be delivered with extra gravity. The kids understand at-a-glance that the character in “Green, Eggs and Ham” does not like that Sam-I-am.

In content marketing: Limit the positioning of an overt brand point of view in your stories. Show your audience, rather than tell your audience. It’s one of the first lessons we learn in journalism school, and it’s what make Purina’s “Dear Kitten” piece so powerful. Storytelling helps an audience understand what a brand stands for much more than the brand shouting key messages from the screen or page.

Create Platforms for Audience Members to Participate

I read the class “The First Pup,” about the Obama family dog, shortly after a family visit to Washington, D.C. After the reading, my son was quick to announce that he had seen the White House first hand. His sharing inspired another classmate to tell us he was just in Utah. Another classmate shared that her family was soon going to Disneyland. While “The First Pup,” itself, didn’t hold everyone’s attention, it was the platform for what became an animated classroom discussion.

In content marketing: Content is the beginning, not the end. The best brand stories lead audience members into other brand stories and along the continuum from aware to engaged to activated; from consuming the story to liking, sharing or commenting about their own related experiences. This is how stories build relationships, and one of the things I most dig about Dell’s Tech Page One.

Are There More Parallels?

Now, just to be sure we’re speaking the same language here, let me emphasize: I don’t endorse involvement as a Pre-K parent as a venue to brainstorm content programs. I read to my son’s class because I want to show him I’m interested in his life at school. I like to see how he interacts with his buddies there. And it’s good for the kids. Still, it’s fun to see how the essential logic of recommendations we make to clients holds up in such a different environment.

No applesauce required.

By Adam Kleiner

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