Hans and Ola Rosling: How not to be ignorant about the world @ TEDSalon Berlin

I had the pleasure of attending a special TED event in 2014. TEDSalon Berlin was just a one day affair, yet it featured a number of compelling talks that served as examples of impactful stories on global issues. This post is an analysis of a talk given by Hans RoslingOla Rosling on how knowledge, or a lack of knowledge, shapes our view of the world. For a better future, we need to understand today.

Watch Hans and Ola Rosling’s TED Talk. The numbers that are being presented represent serious topics, yet the focus in not on digging into the trends, but to highlight how our perceptions about these trends are so often wrong. It’s a fun talk to watch, which doesn’t often happen with statistics, yet inspires us to use caution before jumping to conclusions.


(my notes in red)

Hans Rosling: I’m going to ask you three multiple choice questions. Use this device. Use this device to answer. The first question is, how did the number of deaths per year from natural disaster, how did that change during the last century? Did it more than double, did it remain about the same in the world as a whole, or did it decrease to less than half? Please answer A, B or C. I see lots of answers. This is much faster than I do it at universities. They are so slow. They keep thinking, thinking, thinking. Oh, very, very good.

Quite different from the reserved style of most TED speakers, Hans brings the energy level up immediately with the tone, volume, and passion in his voice. The digital interaction with the audience also differentiates this talk from a simple narration and makes the audience a character within the narration.

And we go to the next question. So how long did women 30 years old in the world go to school: seven years, five years or three years? A, B or C? Please answer.

And we go to the next question. In the last 20 years, how did the percentage of people in the world who live in extreme poverty change? Extreme poverty — not having enough food for the day. Did it almost double, did it remain more or less the same, or did it halve? A, B or C?

Now, answers. You see, deaths from natural disasters in the world, you can see it from this graph here, from 1900 to 2000. In 1900, there was about half a million people who died every year from natural disasters: floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruption, whatever, droughts. And then, how did that change?

Gapminder asked the public in Sweden. This is how they answered. The Swedish public answered like this: Fifty percent thought it had doubled, 38 percent said it’s more or less the same, 12 said it had halved.

This is the best data from the disaster researchers, and it goes up and down, and it goes to the Second World War, and after that it starts to fall and it keeps falling and it’s down to much less than half. The world has been much, much more capable as the decades go by to protect people from this, you know. So only 12 percent of the Swedes know this.

Hans uses a chart to map the answers for the first question based on a research study, then displays the actual answer as a line which proceeds across the chart along the time axis. It’s a powerful way to overlay a statistical answer in conjunction with a prediction of the answer.

So I went to the zoo and I asked the chimps. The chimps don’t watch the evening news, so the chimps, they choose by random, so the Swedes answer worse than random. Now how did you do? That’s you. You were beaten by the chimps. But it was close. You were three times better than the Swedes, but that’s not enough. You shouldn’t compare yourself to Swedes. You must have higher ambitions in the world.

Adding humor to a statistical story block isn’t the easiest thing to do, but Hans is a natural comedian alongside his talent at following the science. Can you insert a lighthearted comedic moment while sharing data? Some topics don’t lend themselves to humor, so be mindful.

Let’s look at the next answer here: women in school. Here, you can see men went eight years. How long did women go to school? Well, we asked the Swedes like this, and that gives you a hint, doesn’t it? The right answer is probably the one the fewest Swedes picked, isn’t it? Let’s see, let’s see. Here we come. Yes, yes, yes, women have almost caught up. This is the U.S. public. And this is you. Here you come. Ooh. Well, congratulations, you’re twice as good as the Swedes, but you don’t need me —

So how come? I think it’s like this, that everyone is aware that there are countries and there are areas where girls have great difficulties. They are stopped when they go to school, and it’s disgusting. But in the majority of the world, where most people in the world live, most countries, girls today go to school as long as boys, more or less. That doesn’t mean that gender equity is achieved, not at all. They still are confined to terrible, terrible limitations, but schooling is there in the world today. Now, we miss the majority. When you answer, you answer according to the worst places, and there you are right, but you miss the majority.

Beyond the numbers themselves, and how different groups faired when predicting, Hans offers an insight as to why so many people got the answer wrong. We tend to be more aware of where problems exist, not successes. He doesn’t mention it, but in my experience that’s because the news focuses on problems over successes. I’d like to see that topic analyzed in parallel, but that would make for a much longer talk.

What about poverty? Well, it’s very clear that poverty here was almost halved, and in U.S., when we asked the public, only five percent got it right. And you? Ah, you almost made it to the chimps. That little, just a few of you! There must be preconceived ideas, you know. And many in the rich countries, they think that oh, we can never end extreme poverty. Of course they think so, because they don’t even know what has happened. The first thing to think about the future is to know about the present.

This last line is a fundamental perspective that Hans is bringing into this talk – that we need to know about the present and understand what is really going on now in order to consider what the future might look like.

These questions were a few of the first ones in the pilot phase of the Ignorance Project in Gapminder Foundation that we run, and it was started, this project, last year by my boss, and also my son, Ola Rosling. He’s cofounder and director, and he wanted, Ola told me we have to be more systematic when we fight devastating ignorance. So already the pilots reveal this, that so many in the public score worse than random, so we have to think about preconceived ideas, and one of the main preconceived ideas is about world income distribution.

Look here. This is how it was in 1975. It’s the number of people on each income, from one dollar a day. See, there was one hump here, around one dollar a day, and then there was one hump here somewhere between 10 and 100 dollars. The world was two groups. It was a camel world, like a camel with two humps, the poor ones and the rich ones, and there were fewer in between.

Continuing with his fun approach to numbers, Hans uses a prop to not only point at the graph behind him, but to elicit a laugh from the audience. Props are an old trick, but you don’t see them so often anymore, so it’s a refreshing change.

But look how this has changed: As I go forward, what has changed, the world population has grown, and the humps start to merge. The lower humps merged with the upper hump, and the camel dies and we have a dromedary world with one hump only. The percent in poverty has decreased. Still it’s appalling that so many remain in extreme poverty. We still have this group, almost a billion, over there, but that can be ended now.

The challenge we have now is to get away from that, understand where the majority is, and that is very clearly shown in this question. We asked, what is the percentage of the world’s one-year-old children who have got those basic vaccines against measles and other things that we have had for many years: 20, 50 or 80 percent?

Now, this is what the U.S. public and the Swedish answered. Look at the Swedish result: you know what the right answer is. Who the heck is a professor of global health in that country? Well, it’s me. It’s me. It’s very difficult, this. It’s very difficult.

However, Ola’s approach to really measure what we know made headlines, and CNN published these results on their web and they had the questions there, millions answered, and I think there were about 2,000 comments, and this was one of the comments. “I bet no member of the media passed the test,” he said.

So Ola told me, “Take these devices. You are invited to media conferences. Give it to them and measure what the media know.” And ladies and gentlemen, for the first time, the informal results from a conference with U.S. media. And then, lately, from the European Union media. You see, the problem is not that people don’t read and listen to the media. The problem is that the media doesn’t know themselves. What shall we do about this, Ola? Do we have any ideas?

Ola Rosling: Yes, I have an idea, but first, I’m so sorry that you were beaten by the chimps. Fortunately, I will be able to comfort you by showing why it was not your fault, actually. Then, I will equip you with some tricks for beating the chimps in the future. That’s basically what I will do.

But first, let’s look at why are we so ignorant, and it all starts in this place. It’s Hudiksvall. It’s a city in northern Sweden. It’s a neighborhood where I grew up, and it’s a neighborhood with a large problem. Actually, it has exactly the same problem which existed in all the neighborhoods where you grew up as well. It was not representative. Okay? It gave me a very biased view of how life is on this planet. So this is the first piece of the ignorance puzzle. We have a personal bias.

The talk pivots in two respects at this point. Hans give the floor to his son, Ola, and it shifts from demonstrating that the public and media has a lack of awareness when it comes to important statistics, to explaining why that is and what can be done about it.

It’s pretty much at the half way mark, which is common in a problem / solution style talk. It’s important that your audience have a solid understanding of your topic before you present your idea for creating better outcomes in the future.

We have all different experiences from communities and people we meet, and on top of this, we start school, and we add the next problem. Well, I like schools, but teachers tend to teach outdated worldviews, because they learned something when they went to school, and now they describe this world to the students without any bad intentions, and those books, of course, that are printed are outdated in a world that changes. And there is really no practice to keep the teaching material up to date. So that’s what we are focusing on. So we have these outdated facts added on top of our personal bias.

What happens next is news, okay? An excellent journalist knows how to pick the story that will make headlines, and people will read it because it’s sensational. Unusual events are more interesting, no? And they are exaggerated, and especially things we’re afraid of. A shark attack on a Swedish person will get headlines for weeks in Sweden. So these three skewed sources of information were really hard to get away from.

Having presented the reasons for our general lack of knowledge, Ola uses a slide to help focus the audience’s mind on those three topics – Personal bias, Outdated facts, and News bias. The subject is far more complex than this, but for a talk under 20 minutes, it’s important to direct your narrative to the most important ideas. See if you can do that in three or less.

They kind of bombard us and equip our mind with a lot of strange ideas, and on top of it we put the very thing that makes us humans, our human intuition. It was good in evolution. It helped us generalize and jump to conclusions very, very fast. It helped us exaggerate what we were afraid of, and we seek causality where there is none, and we then get an illusion of confidence where we believe that we are the best car drivers, above the average. Everybody answered that question, “Yeah, I drive cars better.”

Okay, this was good evolutionarily, but now when it comes to the worldview, it is the exact reason why it’s upside down. The trends that are increasing are instead falling, and the other way around, and in this case, the chimps use our intuition against us, and it becomes our weakness instead of our strength. It was supposed to be our strength, wasn’t it?

So how do we solve such problems? First, we need to measure it, and then we need to cure it. So by measuring it we can understand what is the pattern of ignorance. We started the pilot last year, and now we’re pretty sure that we will encounter a lot of ignorance across the whole world, and the idea is really to scale it up to all domains or dimensions of global development, such as climate, endangered species, human rights, gender equality, energy, finance.

All different sectors have facts, and there are organizations trying to spread awareness about these facts. So I’ve started actually contacting some of them, like WWF and Amnesty International and UNICEF, and asking them, what are your favorite facts which you think the public doesn’t know?

Okay, I gather those facts. Imagine a long list with, say, 250 facts. And then we poll the public and see where they score worst. So we get a shorter list with the terrible results, like some few examples from Hans, and we have no problem finding these kinds of terrible results. Okay, this little shortlist, what are we going to do with it?

Well, we turn it into a knowledge certificate, a global knowledge certificate, which you can use, if you’re a large organization, a school, a university, or maybe a news agency, to certify yourself as globally knowledgeable. Basically meaning, we don’t hire people who score like chimpanzees. Of course you shouldn’t. So maybe 10 years from now, if this project succeeds, you will be sitting in an interview having to fill out this crazy global knowledge.

Part one of the solution is to create a knowledge certificate…

So now we come to the practical tricks. How are you going to succeed? There is, of course, one way, which is to sit down late nights and learn all the facts by heart by reading all these reports. That will never happen, actually. Not even Hans thinks that’s going to happen. People don’t have that time. People like shortcuts, and here are the shortcuts. We need to turn our intuition into strength again. We need to be able to generalize. So now I’m going to show you some tricks where the misconceptions are turned around into rules of thumb.

Part two of the solution is how to achieve that knowledge…

Let’s start with the first misconception. This is very widespread. Everything is getting worse. You heard it. You thought it yourself. The other way to think is, most things improve. So you’re sitting with a question in front of you and you’re unsure. You should guess “improve.” Okay? Don’t go for the worse. That will help you score better on our tests. That was the first one.

There are rich and poor and the gap is increasing. It’s a terrible inequality. Yeah, it’s an unequal world, but when you look at the data, it’s one hump. Okay? If you feel unsure, go for “the most people are in the middle.” That’s going to help you get the answer right.

Now, the next preconceived idea is first countries and people need to be very, very rich to get the social development like girls in school and be ready for natural disasters. No, no, no. That’s wrong. Look: that huge hump in the middle already have girls in school. So if you are unsure, go for the “the majority already have this,” like electricity and girls in school, these kinds of things. They’re only rules of thumb, so of course they don’t apply to everything, but this is how you can generalize.

Let’s look at the last one. If something, yes, this is a good one, sharks are dangerous. No — well, yes, but they are not so important in the global statistics, that is what I’m saying. I actually, I’m very afraid of sharks. So as soon as I see a question about things I’m afraid of, which might be earthquakes, other religions, maybe I’m afraid of terrorists or sharks, anything that makes me feel, assume you’re going to exaggerate the problem. That’s a rule of thumb. Of course there are dangerous things that are also great. Sharks kill very, very few. That’s how you should think.

With these four rules of thumb, you could probably answer better than the chimps, because the chimps cannot do this. They cannot generalize these kinds of rules. And hopefully we can turn your world around and we’re going to beat the chimps. Okay? That’s a systematic approach.

Ola provides four methods of improving your odds when it comes to guessing trend lines, but are you convinced they will work? I’m not speculating either way. I’m simply asking the question because if you’re creating a problem / solution, idea-driven narrative, what will matter most is whether the audience buys into your idea.

Now the question, is this important? Yeah, it’s important to understand poverty, extreme poverty and how to fight it, and how to bring girls in school. When we realize that actually it’s succeeding, we can understand it. But is it important for everyone else who cares about the rich end of this scale? I would say yes, extremely important, for the same reason. If you have a fact-based worldview of today, you might have a chance to understand what’s coming next in the future.

We’re going back to these two humps in 1975. That’s when I was born, and I selected the West. That’s the current EU countries and North America. Let’s now see how the rest and the West compares in terms of how rich you are. These are the people who can afford to fly abroad with an airplane for a vacation. In 1975, only 30 percent of them lived outside EU and North America. But this has changed, okay?

So first, let’s look at the change up till today, 2014. Today it’s 50/50. The Western domination is over, as of today. That’s nice. So what’s going to happen next? Do you see the big hump? Did you see how it moved? I did a little experiment. I went to the IMF, International Monetary Fund, website. They have a forecast for the next five years of GDP per capita. So I can use that to go five years into the future, assuming the income inequality of each country is the same.

I did that, but I went even further. I used those five years for the next 20 years with the same speed, just as an experiment what might actually happen. Let’s move into the future. In 2020, it’s 57 percent in the rest. In 2025, 63 percent. 2030, 68.

And in 2035, the West is outnumbered in the rich consumer market. These are just projections of GDP per capita into the future. Seventy-three percent of the rich consumers are going to live outside North America and Europe. So yes, I think it’s a good idea for a company to use this certificate to make sure to make fact-based decisions in the future.

It gets a bit heavy with the rapid fire numbers towards the end, and while I come away with the impression that, once again, my assumptions were wrong, I’m not sure that I come away with the feeling that the certificate is a good idea. That’s largely due to the fact that the certificate itself was not fully explained.

One of the challenges that you’ll deal with in presenting an idea with impact is getting the audience to understand both the problem and solution in a short period of time. In this case, my view is that accomplishing that task would need twice the amount of time.

This is where rehearsing in front of other people becomes extremely valuable. Without telling your audience what your talk is about, just present it, then ask them what they thought the talk was about and ask for their opinion as to whether your talk shifted their perception. If people are unclear at the end, another editing cycle is called for.

Thank you very much.

[Note: all comments inserted into this transcript are my opinions, not those of the speaker, the TED organization, nor anyone else on the planet. In my view, each story is unique, as is every interpretation of that story. The sole purpose of these analytical posts is to inspire a storyteller to become a storylistener, and in doing so, make their stories more impactful.]

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Aleeza Kazmi at The Moth from The Beacon School in New York City

The Moth has been hosting storytelling events for 20+ years, and the thousands of storytellers who have graced their stages are proof that every story is unique, and that the best stories come from our personal experiences.

I’ve always felt that storytelling should be a required course in high school, as it’s fundamental to how we formulate our thoughts and how we’ll express ourselves throughout our lives. I was delighted to discover this story by Aleeza Kazmi when she was still a student. (she’s a professional storyteller now)

Children of color often deal with issues related to identity when they’re growing up, and in this story, Aleeza recalls such an incident from when she was just six years old. Beyond her particular circumstances, it’s a narrative which speaks to the courage we sometimes need in order to express the fact that we are proud of who we are.


So I’m six years old and I’m in the first grade and I’m sitting at a table with my three best friends and we’re all really similar. We all wear the same clothes from the children’s place that our mom’s by us, and we play on the monkey bars during recess and we play house underneath the playground at St. Catherine’s Park, which was behind our elementary school. All of our names start with A, there is Anna, Amanda, Ashia, and Aleeza. We’re working on self portraits, and this is sort of an icebreaker project of the first grade. My teacher, Ms. Harrington, presented it as a way to get to know each other’s faces. These were gonna be hung up on the wall, and I was really excited because we were on our third day of self portraits and we were going to color them in finally.

I was super excited about this because my mom had bought me a coloring book over the summer and I learned how to color inside the lines. I learned all these, yeah, really excited about that, and I learned all these really cool techniques for how to draw properly. I was basically young Picasso and I was ready to show off my skills to my friends. I knew this was an extremely special project because Ms. Harrington had brought out oil pastels. Every table got one box, and every box had one of each color. I love oil pastels because I used there really soft, and so I used to take them and pinch them between my fingers and feel them melt into my skin almost. Because there’s one of each color in every box you had to be patient and wait for your color to not be used, and the color I wanted was being used.

I was ready to color in my face, and all of my friends had colored in their face peach, and since we were all the same girl, I figured I would use peach as well. So finally, peach was available, and I color in my face and I’m going slowly and I’m watching the oil pastel melt into the paper and I color inside the lines. It’s beautiful, and I look down and this self portrait, this girl I had just drawn, is exactly how I see myself. It’s like I’m looking into a mirror, and I’m proud, and I feel Ms. Harrington, my teacher, looking over my shoulder, and I get really excited because Ms. Harrington loved it when people drew well. And I was like, she’s gonna say to me that she’s gonna hang it above her desk, so that when people came in, they knew that I drew this amazing portrait.

I was getting ready for her to compliment me, and instead she looks down and she says, “Aleeza, that’s not your color.” And I’m confused by this cuz I don’t understand how colors can belong to people. So I start panicking and I’m like, Was I not supposed to use oil pastels? You know, did I do something wrong? What did I do wrong? I couldn’t figure it out, and I couldn’t find a way to ask her.

She didn’t explain further, she just grabbed the oil pastel box and started looking through it. Didn’t find the color she was looking for. So she went to the crayon bin. Now, every elementary school had this infamous crayon bin where little bits and pieces of broken of crayon that were unwrapped and disgusting and mixed together over years and years and years and never went away.

And I never used crayons. I always used markers or color pencils or something. But Ms. Harrington went to the crayon bin, and she’s rummaging through it, and she pulls out this crayon, and it’s this nub of a brown crayon that’s unwrapped and gross. Ms. Jill Harrington hands it to me and she says, “Lisa, this is your color.”

I still don’t understand it because how can colors belong to people? But I can’t figure out a way to ask her, and so I take it and she tells me to color in my face, and so I do. But crayon and oil pastel don’t mix together and they’re not friends and they don’t wanna be on the same page together. So I’m pushing in this crayon and I’m going in all different directions and trying to make it mix with the peach, but it’s not doing it.

I’m coloring outside of the lines now and I’ve colored into my eye and my lips and now’s red on my chin. I’m panting, and Anna, Ashia and Amanda are all staring at me and I’m embarrassed. When I’m done, I look down and I’m this grotesque monster that can’t decide if it wants to be peach or brown. I wanna scream at Ms. Jill Harrington, “Please do not hang this up, I’ll do it again. I’ll do it your way this time.”

But she grabs my self portrait before I’m able to say anything, and she puts it into the pile with all of my even tone, beautiful peach friends, and it’s hung up on the wall. I go home that night and I ask my mom, “Why am I not allowed to be peach?” And she explains it to me as well as a mother can to a six year old who’s going through an identity crisis.

You know, I’m not peach and your dad isn’t peach. She does her best, but I still don’t understand it, and I don’t wanna ask her cuz I don’t wanna sound stupid, cuz everyone else seems to understand this concept of color, but I cannot wrap my head around it. So I put this idea on a shelf and I don’t think about it again until the sixth grade when I’m in a new school, and we’re all asking each other questions like, “Where did you go to elementary school and what’s your favorite book?” Just trying to get to know each other a little bit, and this one boy comes up to me and he asks me, “What race are you?” Which might be a complex question. Some people, they can’t look at me and know what race I am.

I didn’t know what race I was because I never really thought about it, so I’m trying to look for an answer. I think back to this Jill Harrington and that brown nubby crayon, and I tell him, “I’m brown.” And he looks at me, and he’s so confused, and he says, “What do you mean you’re brown? Brown isn’t a race.”

I find the words finally and they come up, and this little six year old me inside is screaming, and then now I’m screaming and I’m saying, “Who are you to tell me what I am? If I say I’m brown, then I’m brown and deal with it.”

So this boy never spoke to me again, which is fine, because I finally found the words and was able to stand up for myself.

Watch Aleeza’s video, make some notes about what impressed you, then read the manuscript and watch again. You’ll see and hear it differently the 2nd time around. You will also notice a bit of editing. To avoid the talk from reading as a run-on sentence, the word ‘and’ was removed in several places.

[Note: all comments are my opinions, not those of the speaker, or The Moth, or anyone else on the planet. In my view, every story is unique, as is every interpretation of that story. The sole purpose of these posts is to inspire storytellers to become better storylisteners and to think about how their stories can become more impactful.]

Learn more about the coaching process or
contact me to discuss your storytelling goals!

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Sam Kass: Want kids to learn well? Feed them well @ TED Talks Live

TED Talks Live were held at The Town Hall Theater in NYC, in November of 2015. I had the pleasure of attending all six nights to hear speakers present impactful Ideas Worth Spreading. This post is an analysis of a talk by Sam Kass about the connection between proper nutrition and success in childhood education.

Watch Sam’s TED Talk. The issues related to proper nutrition and the quality of a child’s education are complex, but Sam provides us with an example of one such solution that has seen positive results. But this talk is also about the choices that storytellers must make in regards to focus and impact.


(my notes in red)

I am a chef and a food policy guy, but I come from a whole family of teachers. My sister is a special ed teacher in Chicago. My father just retired after 25 years teaching fifth grade. My aunt and uncle were professors. My cousins all teach. Everybody in my family, basically, teaches except for me.

They taught me that the only way to get the right answers is to ask the right questions. So what are the right questions when it comes to improving the educational outcomes for our children? There’s obviously many important questions, but I think the following is a good place to start: What do we think the connection is between a child’s growing mind and their growing body? What can we expect our kids to learn if their diets are full of sugar and empty of nutrients? What can they possibly learn if their bodies are literally going hungry? And with all the resources that we are pouring into schools, we should stop and ask ourselves: Are we really setting our kids up for success?

We know about chefs, and teachers, but the phrase ‘food policy guy’ is a bit unusual, and that has the audience wondering where his story will take them. Leveraging what he learned from the teachers in his family, Sam asks a series of questions which outline his narrative. Beyond serving as a precursor for his story, the technique of opening a story with questions can also engage the audience and get their cognitive wheels turning.

Now, a few years ago, I was a judge on a cooking competition called “Chopped.” Four chefs compete with mystery ingredients to see who can cook the best dishes. Except for this episode — it was a very special one. Instead of four overzealous chefs trying to break into the limelight — something that I would know nothing about — (Laughter) these chefs were school chefs; you know, the women that you used to call “lunch ladies,” but the ones I insist we call “school chefs.” Now, these women — God bless these women — they spend their day cooking for thousands of kids, breakfast and lunch, with only $2.68 per lunch, with only about a dollar of that actually going to the food. In this episode, the main-course mystery ingredient was quinoa. Now, I know it’s been a long time since most of you have had a school lunch, and we’ve made a lot of progress on nutrition, but quinoa still is not a staple in most school cafeterias.

Many people will have seen Sam on television, but for those that have not, his quick mention of that fact tells us that he’s not just a chef (he told us that in his opening line) but a chef who is good enough to be a judge for a cooking competition. Often times you can provide a single sentence that says a lot about who you are in connection to the story you’re telling.

So this was a challenge. But the dish that I will never forget was cooked by a woman named Cheryl Barbara. Cheryl was the nutrition director at High School in the Community in Connecticut. She cooked this delicious pasta. It was amazing. It was a pappardelle with Italian sausage, kale, Parmesan cheese. It was delicious, like, restaurant-quality good, except — she basically just threw the quinoa, pretty much uncooked, into the dish. It was a strange choice, and it was super crunchy. So I took on the TV accusatory judge thing that you’re supposed to do, and I asked her why she did that.

Cheryl responded, “Well, first, I don’t know what quinoa is.” (Laughter) “But I do know that it’s a Monday, and that in my school, at High School in the Community, I always cook pasta.”

See, Cheryl explained that for many of her kids, there were no meals on the weekends. No meals on Saturday. No meals on Sunday, either. So Cheryl cooked pasta because she wanted to make sure she cooked something she knew her children would eat. Something that would stick to their ribs, she said. Something that would fill them up. Cheryl talked about how, by the time Monday came, her kids’ hunger pangs were so intense that they couldn’t even begin to think about learning. Food was the only thing on their mind. The only thing. And unfortunately, the stats — they tell the same story.

This story block is about someone other than Sam. In this case, it’s someone that he has met and interacted with, so he could tell it from personal experience, but we are basically in the shoes of this other person. Think about the people you have met that could be part of your narrative. Capture those as current or future story blocks. Some speakers have dozens of such stories to draw on.

So, let’s put this into the context of a child. And we’re going to focus on the most important meal of the day, breakfast. Meet Allison. She’s 12 years old, she’s smart as a whip and she wants to be a physicist when she grows up. If Allison goes to a school that serves a nutritious breakfast to all of their kids, here’s what’s going to follow. Her chances of getting a nutritious meal, one with fruit and milk, one lower in sugar and salt, dramatically increase. Allison will have a lower rate of obesity than the average kid. She’ll have to visit the nurse less. She’ll have lower levels of anxiety and depression. She’ll have better behavior. She’ll have better attendance, and she’ll show up on time more often. Why? Well, because there’s a good meal waiting for her at school. Overall, Allison is in much better health than the average school kid.

So what about that kid who doesn’t have a nutritious breakfast waiting for him? Well, meet Tommy. He’s also 12. He’s a wonderful kid. He wants to be a doctor. By the time Tommy is in kindergarten, he’s already underperforming in math. By the time he’s in third grade, he’s got lower math and reading scores. By the time he’s 11, it’s more likely that Tommy will have to have repeated a grade. Research shows that kids who do not have consistent nourishment, particularly at breakfast, have poor cognitive function overall.

Here we have two more stories of other people – both designed to illustrate the connection between educational success and healthy nutrition – with one having a positive outcome, while the other outcome is negative. The use of contrasting stories is a common technique, used to show what happens when one path is taken over the other.

Sometimes these paths are imposed – in this case we’re dealing with children who don’t really have a choice – but in other situations the path is chosen – an adult who chooses to eat too much, or drink too much, or smoke cigarettes. In either case, the audience knows which is the better path, but they also know there are challenges to taking that path. This dilemma sets up the next phase of the story.

So how widespread is this problem? Well, unfortunately, it’s pervasive. Let me give you two stats that seem like they’re on opposite ends of the issue, but are actually two sides of the same coin. On the one hand, one in six Americans are food insecure, including 16 million children — almost 20 percent — are food insecure. In this city alone, in New York City, 474,000 kids under the age of 18 face hunger every year. It’s crazy.

On the other hand, diet and nutrition is the number one cause of preventable death and disease in this country, by far. And fully a third of the kids that we’ve been talking about tonight are on track to have diabetes in their lifetime.

Now, what’s hard to put together but is true is that, many times, these are the same children. So they fill up on the unhealthy and cheap calories that surround them in their communities and that their families can afford. But then by the end of the month, food stamps run out or hours get cut at work, and they don’t have the money to cover the basic cost of food.

Sam offers a statistical story block to demonstrate the magnitude of the problem. It’s very shocking to hear that nearly a half million kids in New York City face hunger every year. Are there statistics that can help support your narrative, that can highlight the importance of your message? You can use static numbers, or present a trend line if the numbers are going up or down.

But I would also like to mention Sam’s use of the phrase ‘diet and nutrition is the number one cause of preventable death and disease in this country, by far’. I found it equally shocking, yet it didn’t ring true for me. I’m not saying it was a false statement, but it seemed to be such a serious claim that it needed an explanation. What are the categories of ‘preventable death and disease’ that he’s talking about? What are the relevant statistics?

The point is, when you’re making a serious claim – about anything – consider whether you need to explain it further, or provide statistics, or quote the source of your claim.

But we should be able to solve this problem, right? We know what the answers are. As part of my work at the White House, we instituted a program that for all schools that had 40 percent more low-income kids, we could serve breakfast and lunch to every kid in that school. For free.

This program has been incredibly successful, because it helped us overcome a very difficult barrier when it came to getting kids a nutritious breakfast. And that was the barrier of stigma. See, schools serve breakfast before school, and it was only available for the poor kids. So everybody knew who was poor and who needed government help.

Now, all kids, no matter how much or how little their parents make, have a lot of pride. So what happened? Well, the schools that have implemented this program saw an increase in math and reading scores by 17.5 percent. 17.5 percent. And research shows that when kids have a consistent, nutritious breakfast, their chances of graduating increase by 20 percent. 20 percent. When we give our kids the nourishment they need, we give them the chance to thrive, both in the classroom and beyond.

The story now pivots from problem to solution, and we get one more slice of information about Sam – that he was working on this project at the White House. If he was to expand this story from its short 12 minute format to keynote length, these few words could become a significant story block of its own. The beauty of story blocks is how they can be expanded or contracted based on the time allowed.

Now, you don’t have to trust me on this, but you should talk to Donna Martin. I love Donna Martin. Donna Martin is the school nutrition director at Burke County in Waynesboro, Georgia. Burke County is one of the poorest districts in the fifth-poorest state in the country, and about 100 percent of Donna’s students live at or below the poverty line. A few years ago, Donna decided to get out ahead of the new standards that were coming, and overhaul her nutrition standards. She improved and added fruit and vegetables and whole grains. She served breakfast in the classroom to all of her kids. And she implemented a dinner program. Why? Well, many of her kids didn’t have dinner when they went home.

So how did they respond? Well, the kids, they loved the food. They loved the better nutrition, and they loved not being hungry. But Donna’s biggest supporter came from an unexpected place. His name was Eric Parker, and he was the head football coach for the Burke County Bears. Now, Coach Parker had coached mediocre teams for years. The Bears often ended in the middle of the pack — a big disappointment in one of the most passionate football states in the Union. But the year Donna changed the menus, the Bears not only won their division, they went on to win the state championship, beating the Peach County Trojans 28-14.

And Coach Parker, he credited that championship to Donna Martin.

This is a fun story block about how the football team improved their performance after the food program was improved, but it feels off topic to me and takes away from what I feel is the more important story of the link between nutrition and education. It’s a stylistic choice, of course, but when you want your story to have the most impact possible, carefully consider what content you will include, and what content to leave out. Especially when you have a very limited time to tell it. Some points that work in a long talk can be cut in a shorter talk.

When we give our kids the basic nourishment, they’re going to thrive. And it’s not just up to the Cheryl Barbaras and the Donna Martins of the world. It’s on all of us. And feeding our kids the basic nutrition is just the starting point. What I’ve laid out is really a model for so many of the most pressing issues that we face.

If we focus on the simple goal of properly nourishing ourselves, we could see a world that is more stable and secure; we could dramatically improve our economic productivity; we could transform our health care and we could go a long way in ensuring that the Earth can provide for generations to come. Food is that place where our collective efforts can have the greatest impact.

I think we would all agree with Sam that proper nutrition is linked to a wide range of global issues, but it’s unusual to begin on one topic – education – then expand it – athletics – and expand it further still – economics and health care. On the one hand, it speaks to how important the topic of nutrition is, but on the other hand, it strays from the opening topic. In the end, such decisions are up to the storyteller. I would simply suggest that you never stray from the intent of maximizing impact.

So we have to ask ourselves: What is the right question? What would happen if we fed ourselves more nutritious, more sustainably grown food? What would be the impact? Cheryl Barbara, Donna Martin, Coach Parker and the Burke County Bears — I think they know the answer.

Thank you guys so very much.

[Note: all comments inserted into this transcript are my opinions, not those of the speaker, the TED organization, nor anyone else on the planet. In my view, each story is unique, as is every interpretation of that story. The sole purpose of these analytical posts is to inspire a storyteller to become a storylistener, and in doing so, make their stories more impactful.]

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Sal Khan: Let’s teach for mastery, not test scores @ TED Talks Live

TED Talks Live were held at The Town Hall Theater in NYC, in November of 2015. I had the pleasure of attending all six nights to hear speakers present impactful Ideas Worth Spreading. This post is an analysis of a talk by Sal Khan about how mastery and mindset can improve learning.

It’s a classic problem/solution story. One that describes a process that is being used on a global scale – in this case the process of learning – but often delivers less than ideal results. In such situations the stakes are high and new ways of thinking are required in order to address rapid changes in society.

Watch Sal’s TED Talk. He demonstrates that the status quo is not serving most students as it should, and offers an alternative that is based on his experience running the Khan Academy. In his view, it’s imperative that we change the way we learn. And if we do, the benefits to society are significant.


(my notes in red)

I’m here today to talk about the two ideas that, at least based on my observations at Khan Academy, are kind of the core, or the key leverage points for learning. And it’s the idea of mastery and the idea of mindset.

When a speaker is well known, as is the case with Sal Khan who founded Khan Academy, a phrase such as ‘my observations at Khan Academy’ speaks volumes. He doesn’t need to explain his role or the history of the academy, but if you don’t have such notoriety, adding another sentence of explanation will keep the audience from being confused about who you are and the work you’re doing. In fact, at no point in his talk does Sal speak about his credentials. Few of us would be so fortunate.

I saw this in the early days working with my cousins. A lot of them were having trouble with math at first, because they had all of these gaps accumulated in their learning. And because of that, at some point they got to an algebra class and they might have been a little bit shaky on some of the pre-algebra, and because of that, they thought they didn’t have the math gene. Or they’d get to a calculus class, and they’d be a little bit shaky on the algebra. I saw it in the early days when I was uploading some of those videos on YouTube, and I realized that people who were not my cousins were watching.

Having introduced ‘the idea of mastery and the idea of mindset’, Sal provides an example that is also personal – ‘my cousins’ and by mentioning that it happened ‘in the early days’, he takes us back in time to the beginning of his journey. When you’re taking an audience on a journey of discovery, of developing a new view of the world, people want to know where it all started. What’s your origin story?

And at first, those comments were just simple thank yous. I thought that was a pretty big deal. I don’t know how much time you all spend on YouTube. Most of the comments are not “Thank you.” They’re a little edgier than that.

But then the comments got a little more intense, student after student saying that they had grown up not liking math. It was getting difficult as they got into more advanced math topics. By the time they got to algebra, they had so many gaps in their knowledge they couldn’t engage with it. They thought they didn’t have the math gene. But when they were a bit older, they took a little agency and decided to engage. They found resources like Khan Academy and they were able to fill in those gaps and master those concepts, and that reinforced their mindset that it wasn’t fixed; that they actually were capable of learning mathematics.

He then shifts the narrative from his cousins to the general public who have been watching his math videos on YouTube. In doing so Sal offers evidence that people who struggled with math could master the concepts that had been troublesome. In your idea-driven story, can you offer examples of how your idea is having an impact? That signifies that your idea has been, to some extent, validated.

And in a lot of ways, this is how you would master a lot of things in life. It’s the way you would learn a martial art. In a martial art, you would practice the white belt skills as long as necessary, and only when you’ve mastered it you would move on to become a yellow belt. It’s the way you learn a musical instrument: you practice the basic piece over and over again, and only when you’ve mastered it, you go on to the more advanced one.

Sal uses the examples of martial arts and music to support the idea of mastery that he began with. In this way we understand that the principle at hand is not confined to his one subject, but instead is common in many aspects of life. Most social problems have parallels elsewhere in society.

But what we point out — this is not the way a traditional academic model is structured, the type of academic model that most of us grew up in. In a traditional academic model, we group students together, usually by age, and around middle school, by age and perceived ability, and we shepherd them all together at the same pace. And what typically happens, let’s say we’re in a middle school pre-algebra class, and the current unit is on exponents, the teacher will give a lecture on exponents, then we’ll go home, do some homework. The next morning, we’ll review the homework, then another lecture, homework, lecture, homework. That will continue for about two or three weeks, and then we get a test. On that test, maybe I get a 75 percent, maybe you get a 90 percent, maybe you get a 95 percent. And even though the test identified gaps in our knowledge, I didn’t know 25 percent of the material. Even the A student, what was the five percent they didn’t know?

Even though we’ve identified the gaps, the whole class will then move on to the next subject, probably a more advanced subject that’s going to build on those gaps. It might be logarithms or negative exponents. And that process continues, and you immediately start to realize how strange this is. I didn’t know 25 percent of the more foundational thing, and now I’m being pushed to the more advanced thing. And this will continue for months, years, all the way until at some point, I might be in an algebra class or trigonometry class and I hit a wall. And it’s not because algebra is fundamentally difficult or because the student isn’t bright. It’s because I’m seeing an equation and they’re dealing with exponents and that 30 percent that I didn’t know is showing up. And then I start to disengage.

In this story block, Sal describes how a traditional education system works and identifies a fundamental flaw in the learning process – the fact that students are expected to learn new concepts using a foundation that contains knowledge gaps. This description not only resonates with the highly educated audience at the event, but will also be familiar with students around the world. In doing so, he builds a connection to the local, as well as the remote, audience.

To appreciate how absurd that is, imagine if we did other things in our life that way. Say, home-building. So we bring in the contractor and say, “We were told we have two weeks to build a foundation. Do what you can.” So they do what they can. Maybe it rains. Maybe some of the supplies don’t show up. And two weeks later, the inspector comes, looks around, says, “OK, the concrete is still wet right over there, that part’s not quite up to code … I’ll give it an 80 percent.” You say, “Great! That’s a C. Let’s build the first floor.”

Same thing. We have two weeks, do what you can, inspector shows up, it’s a 75 percent. Great, that’s a D-plus. Second floor, third floor, and all of a sudden, while you’re building the third floor, the whole structure collapses. And if your reaction is the reaction you typically have in education, or that a lot of folks have, you might say, maybe we had a bad contractor, or maybe we needed better inspection or more frequent inspection. But what was really broken was the process. We were artificially constraining how long we had to something, pretty much ensuring a variable outcome, and we took the trouble of inspecting and identifying those gaps, but then we built right on top of it.

As he did previously, Sal uses an analogy – this time building a house – to illustrate the result of creating a flawed foundation. Analogies can be an impactful part of your narrative, as they provide your audience with another way of seeing the problem that you’re addressing. When Sal says ‘Let’s build the first floor.’ what goes through your mind is, ‘This is not going to end well.’ Which is the point he’s making about the education system. You would never consider building a house with a flawed foundation.

So the idea of mastery learning is to do the exact opposite. Instead of artificially constraining, fixing when and how long you work on something, pretty much ensuring that variable outcome, the A, B, C, D, F — do it the other way around. What’s variable is when and how long a student actually has to work on something, and what’s fixed is that they actually master the material.

Every story that is concerned with a problem, must naturally shift to the solution, which in this story is ‘… to do the exact opposite.’ The change is from focusing on the time constraint to focusing on ‘mastery learning’. Where this pivot occurs is different in every story. In this talk, it’s about the half way point, which is pretty common. What’s important is that the pivot is clear the audience.

And it’s important to realize that not only will this make the student learn their exponents better, but it’ll reinforce the right mindset muscles. It makes them realize that if you got 20 percent wrong on something, it doesn’t mean that you have a C branded in your DNA somehow. It means that you should just keep working on it. You should have grit; you should have perseverance; you should take agency over your learning.

As he continues with the benefits of his approach to learning, Sal touches upon the second idea that he mentioned at the beginning of his talk – mindset. Rather than feeling that a low score is the final word, he encourages students to take control of their situation, to have grit, perseverance and agency. Solutions to problems that require individual action should include the inspiration to take those actions.

Now, a lot of skeptics might say, well, hey, this is all great, philosophically, this whole idea of mastery-based learning and its connection to mindset, students taking agency over their learning. It makes a lot of sense, but it seems impractical. To actually do it, every student would be on their own track. It would have to be personalized, you’d have to have private tutors and worksheets for every student. And these aren’t new ideas — there were experiments in Winnetka, Illinois, 100 years ago, where they did mastery-based learning and saw great results, but they said it wouldn’t scale because it was logistically difficult. The teacher had to give different worksheets to every student, give on-demand assessments.

If there are audience members who doubt the veracity of your idea, including an opposite viewpoint story block allows the speaker to address concerns that might be present. In this case he includes the example of a previous experiment, the challenges they encountered, then follows on with his view that such issues are no longer a problem today. The general approach is ‘you may see the situation this way, but I have a different view that I want to share with you’.

But now today, it’s no longer impractical. We have the tools to do it. Students see an explanation at their own time and pace? There’s on-demand video for that. They need practice? They need feedback? There’s adaptive exercises readily available for students.

In a longer talk there would be time to provide examples of how ‘on-demand video’ and ‘adaptive exercises’ would work for students. I was left with a concept, but not much in the way of understanding. Hearing one story about an individual would have made the idea much more impactful.

And when that happens, all sorts of neat things happen. One, the students can actually master the concepts, but they’re also building their growth mindset, they’re building grit, perseverance, they’re taking agency over their learning. And all sorts of beautiful things can start to happen in the actual classroom. Instead of it being focused on the lecture, students can interact with each other. They can get deeper mastery over the material. They can go into simulations, Socratic dialogue.

Sal reiterates some of the key point previously mentioned in his talk – mastering the concepts, building a growth mindset, building grit and perseverance and taking agency. This is a way to remind the audience of those factors which are important to your solution. Once again, however, I wanted to hear a story. An example of how a more dynamic classroom would operate. Take me inside the room. Let me feel the experience.

To appreciate what we’re talking about and the tragedy of lost potential here, I’d like to give a little bit of a thought experiment. If we were to go 400 years into the past to Western Europe, which even then, was one of the more literate parts of the planet, you would see that about 15 percent of the population knew how to read. And I suspect that if you asked someone who did know how to read, say a member of the clergy, “What percentage of the population do you think is even capable of reading?” They might say, “Well, with a great education system, maybe 20 or 30 percent.”

But if you fast forward to today, we know that that prediction would have been wildly pessimistic, that pretty close to 100 percent of the population is capable of reading. But if I were to ask you a similar question: “What percentage of the population do you think is capable of truly mastering calculus, or understanding organic chemistry, or being able to contribute to cancer research?” A lot of you might say, “Well, with a great education system, maybe 20, 30 percent.”

But what if that estimate is just based on your own experience in a non-mastery framework, your own experience with yourself or observing your peers, where you’re being pushed at this set pace through classes, accumulating all these gaps? Even when you got the A, that 95 percent, what was that five percent you missed? And it keeps accumulating — you get to an advanced class, all of a sudden you hit a wall and say, “I’m not meant to be a cancer researcher; I’m not meant to be a physicist; I’m not meant to be a mathematician.”

And I suspect that that actually is the case, but if you were allowed to be operating in a mastery framework, if you were allowed to really take agency over your learning, and when you get something wrong, embrace it — view that failure as a moment of learning — that number, the percent that could really master calculus or understand organic chemistry, is actually a lot closer to 100 percent.

The use of a ‘what if’ type of hypothetical question allows the audience to envision what could be better if the process was improved. In a problem/solution, idea-driven storyline, that’s a way of asking, ‘What if my solution were implemented? What would the result be?’ There are no guarantees that a proposed solution will work, but if you explain it clearly and give examples, the audience can imagine what the future might look like.

And this isn’t even just a “nice to have.” I think it’s a social imperative. We’re exiting what you could call the industrial age and we’re going into this, whatever, information revolution. And it’s clear that some things are happening. In the industrial age, society was a pyramid. And at the base of the pyramid, you needed human labor. In the middle of the pyramid, you had an information processing, a bureaucracy class, and at the top of the pyramid, you had your owners of capital and your entrepreneurs and your creative class. But we know what’s happening already, as we go into this information revolution. The bottom of that pyramid, automation, is going to take over. Even that middle tier, information processing, that’s what computers are good at.

Sal brings up an important point, that society is changing rapidly due to a revolution in information processing, which in his mind, means that it’s imperative to adopt a new way of learning. This is common for social issues that are not static. Which is to say, your solution is not just about solving a current problem, but is also needed going forward to prevent even greater harm. Think about how the future will look without your ideas being implemented. Is there a similar imperative within your story that the audience needs to understand?

So as a society, we have a question: All this new productivity is happening because of this technology, but who participates in it? Is it just going to be that very top of the pyramid, in which case, what does everyone else do? How do they operate? Or do we do something that’s more aspirational? Do we actually attempt to invert the pyramid, where you have a large creative class, where almost everyone can participate as an entrepreneur, an artist, as a researcher?

And I don’t think that this is utopian. I really think that this is all based on the idea that if we let people tap into their potential by mastering concepts, by being able to exercise agency over their learning, that they can get there. And when you think of it as just a citizen of the world, it’s pretty exciting. I mean, think about the type of equity we can we have, and the rate at which civilization could even progress. And so, I’m pretty optimistic about it. I think it’s going to be a pretty exciting time to be alive.

Thank you.

The visual of ‘inverting the pyramid’ is powerful, it’s a classic, ‘turn the problem on its head’ sort of narrative, but I’m not sure it works here. It may make sense to you, but it had me scratching my head. I was thinking that Sal’s approach to learning, whereby students learn at their own pace, master each level before moving on, and take control of their future, feels more like ‘leveling the playing field’.

But that’s a relatively small complaint, as the crux of his talk is about how our education system is fundamentally flawed, but doesn’t need to be. That we can change how the system operates, and in doing so, give students the opportunity to thrive instead of struggle.

[Note: all comments inserted into this transcript are my opinions, not those of the speaker, the TED organization, nor anyone else on the planet. In my view, each story is unique, as is every interpretation of that story. The sole purpose of these analytical posts is to inspire a storyteller to become a storylistener, and in doing so, make their stories more impactful.]

Learn more about the coaching process or
contact me to discuss your storytelling goals!

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Nadia Lopez: Why open a school? To close a prison @ TED Talks Live

TED Talks Live were held at The Town Hall Theater in NYC, in November of 2015. I had the pleasure of attending all six nights to hear speakers present impactful Ideas Worth Spreading. This post is an analysis of a talk by Nadia Lopez on the power of the education system to change lives.

As some of you may know, I worked on two events held inside a state prison. TEDxDonovanCorrectional was an eye-opening experience, as the men that I coached often told me stories about growing up without a proper education. It wasn’t an uncommon story for a teenager to drop out of school and join a gang. Nadia’s story is a reminder that changes to the education system are possible, but it takes a new vision and a dedicated team to make that happen.

Watch Nadia’s TED Talk. It’s an ideal example of personal storytelling that is effective within a short timeframe. Then review your own manuscript. Have you tightened your prose to be direct and impactful? Does every sentence matter?


(my notes in red)

When I opened Mott Hall Bridges Academy in 2010, my goal was simple: open a school to close a prison. Now to some, this was an audacious goal, because our school is located in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn — one of the most underserved and violent neighborhoods in all of New York City. Like many urban schools with high poverty rates, we face numerous challenges, like finding teachers who can empathize with the complexities of a disadvantaged community, lack of funding for technology, low parental involvement and neighborhood gangs that recruit children as early as fourth grade.

Notice how much the first line, in just 20 words, says about the story. Her action – opening the academy. When action happened – 2010. Her goal – opening a school to close a prison. We don’t know what that means, exactly, so she’s caught our interest and we want to know the answer. In the next 2 sentences she goes deeper into the background of the story – the neighborhood, poverty rates, finding teachers, lack of funding, parents and gangs. All of this is revealed in less than a minute. She makes every word count.

She shows a slide comparing the rate of shootings between the Brownsville section of Brooklyn to all of Manhattan. The visual is easy to understand – the comparison startling.

So here I was, the founding principal of a middle school that was a district public school, and I only had 45 kids to start. Thirty percent of them had special needs. Eighty-six percent of them were below grade level in English and in math. And 100 percent were living below the poverty level.

Nadia uses 3 key statistics to illustrate the difficulties that she faced – 30% special needs, 86% below grade level, 100% below poverty level. With few words we come to understand the extent of the challenge that’s ahead of her.

If our children are not in our classrooms, how will they learn? And if they’re not learning, where would they end up? It was evident when I would ask my 13-year-old, “Young man, where do you see yourself in five years?” And his response: “I don’t know if I’m gonna live that long.”

In a longer talk Nadia could have given us more background on her son, but I doubt that it would have done anything to increase the impact of considering a 13-year-old who doubts whether he will celebrate his 18th birthday.

Or to have a young woman say to me that she had a lifelong goal of working in a fast-food restaurant. To me, this was unacceptable. It was also evident that they had no idea that there was a landscape of opportunity that existed beyond their neighborhood.

We call our students “scholars,” because they’re lifelong learners. And the skills that they learn today will prepare them for college and career readiness. I chose the royal colors of purple and black, because I want them to be reminded that they are descendants of greatness, and that through education, they are future engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs and even leaders who can and will take over this world. To date, we have had three graduating classes, at a 98 (applause) At a 98-percent graduation rate. This is nearly 200 children, who are now going to some of the most competitive high schools in New York City.

The narrative shifts from background to the students in her school, with a brief description of her philosophy, and ending with a statistic – 98% graduation rate – that is in stark contrast to the opening set of statistics. Contrast is a powerful way to use statistics.

It was a cold day in January when my scholar, Vidal Chastanet, met Brandon Stanton, the founder of the popular blog “Humans of New York.” Brandon shared the story of a young man from Brownsville who had witnessed violence firsthand, by witnessing a man being thrown off of a roof. Yet he can still be influenced by a principal who had opened up a school that believes in all children. Vidal embodies the story of so many of our underprivileged children who are struggling to survive, which is why we must make education a priority.

The narrative shifts again, this time to a specific student and a blogger – a story block about other people. Showing a picture of Vidal also serves to humanize the segment. We are now able to experience more than her words. Vidal is a vivid part of the story too.

Brandon’s post created a global sensation that touched the lives of millions. This resulted in 1.4 million dollars being raised for our scholars to attend field trips to colleges and universities, Summer STEAM programs, as well as college scholarships. You need to understand that when 200 young people from Brownsville visited Harvard, they now understood that a college of their choice was a real possibility. And the impossibilities that had been imposed upon them by a disadvantaged community were replaced by hope and purpose.

Nadia then shares the result of that blog post, using a statistic – 1.4 million dollars – and what that number equates to – field trips, STEAM programs, college scholarships. We easily follow the chain of events – student, blogger, post, donations, programs – it’s clear in our mind.

The revolution in education is happening in our schools, with adults who provide love, structure, support and knowledge. These are the things that inspire children. But it is not an easy task. And there are high demands within an education system that is not perfect.

But I have a dynamic group of educators who collaborate as a team to determine what is the best curriculum. They take time beyond their school day, and come in on weekends and even use their own money to often provide resources when we do not have it. And as the principal, I have to inspect what I expect.

So I show up in classes and I conduct observations to give feedback, because I want my teachers to be just as successful as the name Mott Hall Bridges Academy. And I give them access to me every single day, which is why they all have my personal cell number, including my scholars and those who graduated — which is probably why I get phone calls and text messages at three o’clock in the morning.

We come back to the topic of education, the revolution that’s happening, the educators dedication, her personal commitment to everyone involved in the process. And she turns the spotlight on the people who are part of the team to give them credit for their contribution.

But we are all connected to succeed, and good leaders do this. Tomorrow’s future is sitting in our classrooms. And they are our responsibility. That means everyone in here, and those who are watching the screen. We must believe in their brilliance, and remind them by teaching them that there indeed is power in education.

In her closing, Nadia brings the audience into the narrative and emphasizes the responsibility that we all share, to support the power in education. There’s no specific call to action – to volunteer at your local school, or donate money, or write to a politician – it’s a simple reminder that we hold the future of these young students in our hands.

Thank you.

Note her composure on stage, and her measured pace of speaking that makes the narrative and underlying message easy to understand. Yet you can still hear the passion in her voice. Without moving across the stage Nadia turns to address each section of the audience, making direct eye contact. She also uses her hands in a way that emphasizes key words.

At under 7 minutes this story says a lot, and serves as an example of how much can be said in a short amount of time. But in my opinion, I would appreciate a longer talk, maybe in the 12 minute range, as I know she has so much more to say. But that’s just me. How about you? Where there questions on your mind at the end, or issues that you wanted to hear more about? This is one of the biggest challenges we all have when crafting a personal story. Maximizing the impact in the time allowed. So make sure every word counts.

[Note: all comments inserted into this transcript are my opinions, not those of the speaker, the TED organization, nor anyone else on the planet. In my view, each story is unique, as is every interpretation of that story. The sole purpose of these analytical posts is to inspire a storyteller to become a storylistener, and in doing so, make their stories more impactful.]

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