Veterinarian Toby Trimble on Using Storytelling in Teaching
Insight
June 13, 2022

Veterinarian Toby Trimble on Using Storytelling in Teaching

Toby Trimble writes about storytelling, what we can learn from MasterClass — and how we can make education more effective for improved animal welfare.

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Veterinarian Toby Trimble on Using Storytelling in Teaching
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I often speak about the power of storytelling and what it means to me professionally — as well as it’s impact on learning. I believe that storytelling has a powerful role to play when it comes to the future of education and how many of us — as educators, coaches and thought leaders — can teach.

Over the years, teaching and storytelling have become seen by some as disparate elements. Storytelling, on the one hand, is defined as the interactive art of using words and actions to reveal the elements and images of a story — while engaging the listener’s imagination. It’s associated with skilled authors, directors and other creatives; a craft and an art form with high production value.

Teaching, on the other hand, is viewed as something that is perfunctory; it has low production value and is a required pathway, whether that’s in our careers or other parts of our lives, in order to progress. Storytelling is considered the hallmark of great communication, whereas teaching is just a function of knowledge transfer or training. Through Trimble Productions, we’re constantly challenging the traditional notion that teaching and storytelling are so different — and with meaningful results.

Leading the way

Beyond my own experiences, there are several individuals, organisations and even brands that have both informed and inspired my perspective on the combined power of storytelling and speaking. One of the first that comes to mind is MasterClass. An online-based subscription educational platform, MasterClass is exemplary as a format that brings storytelling and teaching together. Their courses have higher production value than I’ve seen just about anywhere else. They’re engaging and even border on edu-tainment. In a workshop that I run I actually show MasterClass trailers and break down how they use sound design, cinematography, illustration, and a limited amount of text; they show people on screen, they use b-roll demonstration techniques. For me, they’re emblematic of great education done really well.

A key factor that differentiates what we do at Trimble Productions from Masterclass is that we’re trying to integrate quite robust educational programmes into their method. MasterClass focuses on teaching soft skills; our courses potentially go into a lot more depth with professional skills, professional techniques as well as postgraduate and undergraduate teaching.

Another really excellent storyteller is David JP Phillips. I’d recommend readers watch one of his TEDx Talks, “How to avoid death by PowerPoint” on YouTube. David is an expert in communication. He knows how to keep listeners engaged, often with humour involved, and has helped many people improve their presentations through stories — and the emotions they provoke. 

Teaching for the future

What it comes down to, for me, is about developing an approach that makes education really effective. We’re making the time that vets spend on education and on courses feel really worthwhile. We do that in various ways, the first being great scripting. We make sure that the key message we need to relay is the least we can tell people to get them to progress, understand and build on what they’re doing. It’s not about oversimplifying the message, but instead, helping to create that first block of understanding upon which they can build. 

We also employ high production value; whether that’s in the form of video, sound design and illustration. And we optimise concentration levels by ensuring our talks are short enough that viewers or listeners can really be focused on them and engaged by them. But the key differentiating factor in what we do, for me, is how we integrate storytelling into teaching. Whether that’s visual storytelling including pictures or video, auditory storytelling with sound design and how we employ spoken word and the overall experience of it. How we immerse those we teach within a story — and their feelings about it — makes for a very compelling offering.

Storytelling, in my opinion, is the most powerful medium that we have for teaching; that is, conveying our messages and concepts to our learners — the people we're presenting to. One of the biggest reasons I am so passionate about it is it can help other vets progress and be able to implement their learned skills. Which ultimately, can help improve how we, as veterinary professionals, practice medicine – and in doing so, animal welfare.

Toby Trimble is the Managing Director of Trimble Productions and a European Specialist in Veterinary Anaesthesia and Analgesia, MRCVS.

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