Tell stories, not data

A close friend of mine is a teaching assistant in a well-respected school. She works mostly with disadvantaged children who have special needs and she is a wizard at motivating them.

She told me this tale recently of an incident she was involved with at school and I asked her if I could retell it here because it demonstrates how stories have incredible power and can produce astonishing results (she agreed of course, otherwise I wouldn’t be retelling it).

Her main charge at school is a boy called Daniel (not his real name) and he had always struggled with the basics. Simple arithmetic was proving to be a real stumbling block for him. Several teachers had tried to teach him the principle of adding up a column of figures and carrying over the tens into an adjoining column if the added up numbers exceeded nine.

No matter how many times they went over the principle, Daniel just couldn’t get his head round the idea – it was too abstract for him.

Then my friend (let’s call her Jane) was given the task of helping him.

Now, my friend is a genius at intuitively understanding children and their interests so she approached this issue in a novel way.

“Look, Daniel” she said “at the bottom of this column of figures is a room. This room can only hold nine people at the most so when all the numbers in this column are added together and they total less than ten, then that number of people can still all fit into the same room together so they can continue to party.

“But if the total adds up to more than nine then that extra ‘one’ it creates can’t fit into the party room and so it has to leave the room and be all on its lonesome with nowhere to go. In order to help the lonely boy, how about we create a new room especially to house him? Let’s call the new room the ‘ten room’ and we build it next door to the other room. In here, the tens can go straight from the singles room and meet up with their own friends to play with.

“They can continue partying just like the folks in the single figure room do – so everyone is happy.”

Daniel could visualise this scenario in a context he was familiar with and suddenly everything made sense to him. He lifted his head up and proclaimed proudly to Jane. “Mrs Creswell, you can go now because I know what I’m doing.”

Jane left Daniel to tackle the remaining sums by himself. When she returned and checked his sheet, Daniel had completed all the problems and managed to work out the correct answers without any further help from her. She knew then that he had intuitively grasped the principle and in future he could apply it where necessary.

This is the power of storytelling; a disadvantaged child has been able to make sense of the world because a facilitator had gone to the trouble of explaining a phenomenon using analogy and narrative.

Imagine the rush of insight Daniel must have experienced, as the secrets of the principle of addition were revealed to him for the first time. Then imagine his realisation that this knowledge has empowered him – he can solve problems for himself!

It’s no exaggeration to say that Jane may have changed Daniel’s life forever. By investing a bit of imagination into the explanation she gave him, she made Daniel realise that there are many different approaches to understanding a problem.

Is it any wonder that Jane is adored by the children in the school?

In any talk you give, be the creative facilitator – helping the audience understand the world better and empowering them to do things for themselves.  Make stories your friend and that task will become a lot easier.

So long and thanks for all the slides


It is with a heavy heart that I have to tell you that I am leaving Bettakultcha.

After seven amazing years, hundreds of outstanding speakers and brilliant audiences in Leeds, York, Bradford, Huddersfield, Manchester and two festivals I’m hanging up my clicker and leaving Bettakultcha in Ivor’s capable hands.

I’ve had an absolute blast bringing Bettakultcha to life with Ivor. From the very first event at Temple Works with the rickety board table and one loo, right through to 400 people in Leeds Town Hall and the filming of the Bettakultcha pilot for Made in Leeds – I’ve made so many friends and expanded my mind.

I’ve been constantly surprised by our volunteer speakers who have put up with my constant emails and nagging to get their slides in on time and of course the brave Random Challengers, you guys have balls! Each and every one of them has enhanced my life no end.

So why am I moving on?

As some of you know in January 2016 I began a new era in my life, when I started my own marketing business. And thanks in a big way to some of the people I met whilst running Bettakultcha, it’s going really well. So well in fact that I don’t have the time or energy to put into Bettakultcha which it, you and Ivor deserve.

I know Ivor has great plans for its future direction and I fully wish him the best of luck.

Thank you

There are so many people I want to thank for their help and support over the last seven years, please forgive me if I’ve missed you out.

Susan Williamson for agreeing to let us try out our mad idea at Temple Works in the first place. Mike Chitty for constant encouragement and of course the loan of his travelling projector! Emma Bearman and Phil Kirby for being our cheerleaders and helping out no end. Nathan Clark of the Brudenell, the best venue in Leeds, for his constant patience with us. Lee Jackson for great feedback, support and the loan of yet another projector! John Popham for helping us video so many of our great moments.

And not forgetting Darren Scotland, Matt Pallatt, Becky Senior, Paul Smith, Mark Moorhouse, Tim Difford, Emma Sutton, Mike Wallis, Noel Curry, John Dolan, Imran Ali, Si Cliff, Wendy Denman, John Atkinson, Nick Copland, Kate Fox and Royd Brayshay for their help and support. So sorry for the people I’ve missed off the list would just be too long!

I may not be wielding my Bettakultcha clicker anymore but I’m sure I’ll see you all around, and who knows I may just do a Random Challenge at a future gig, seeing as I won’t have seen them before.



When Bettakultcha came out of the Wardrobe

Our first visit to The Wardrobe in Leeds was great. It’s a fantastic room, akin to the Brudenell, so it’s got a great feel for Bettakultcha. The night had a great line of speakers with many first time presenters as well as some old hands. Here’s how the night went. Enjoy.

Paul Smith

Lewis Smith

David Taylor

James and Seaburn

Dave Calverley

Carol Hardy

David Price

Your brave random challengers!

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