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The Great Pineapple Dilemma — and the Art of Storytelling

Growing up, my dad’s memorable tale of his father, my Grandpa Schirmacher, has inspired me throughout my life.

As a Mounted Marine, my grandpa rode a horse while serving in the United States Marine Corps. During his career, he was stationed on the then-island nation of Hawaii (before it became the 50th state). Grandpa Schirmacher, being the mischievous character that he was, decided one day to liberate a pineapple from a local farm. Unfortunately, he was seen by the farmer, who chased him all over the island. Eventually, a larger crowd began to chase him, and he was caught. The farmer then sagely informed my grandpa that, if he had just asked, he could have had all the pineapple he wanted for free.

Grandpa Schirmacher never ate pineapple again.

This story has been told over and over again in my family, and it always serves to entertain, but beyond that, this tale:

  • Teaches a morality lesson – don’t steal! (Or, as Grandpa Schirmacher would say, don’t get caught!)
  • Keeps the memory and personality of my grandpa alive.
  • Delights its audience, especially as the tale grows and evolves over the years — for example, it used to be just the farmer chasing Grandpa Schirmacher, but now it’s the entire island.

Storytelling, while providing entertainment, has much more value for learners of all ages. Storytelling can increase learner engagement, simplify complex information, and add variety and spice to an instructional strategy.

Stories allow time for reflection within learning, and they help to bridge the gap between theory and practice. It’s one thing to talk through a set of bullet points in a PowerPoint deck, but to keep your audience engaged, why not enhance the learning by also providing a story-based example? A story can help learners make connections between old and new information, increase their attention, and illustrate what has been taught.

Telling a story doesn’t have to be intimidating. The website Storytellingday.net has a number of good tips to help you form your story:

  1. Find good stories. Start with simple tales with simple elements and progress to more complex ones as your experience grows.
  2. A good story has a single theme that’s well defined with a good plot. It should be appropriate for your audience.
  3. Adapt your story to your audience. If they’re tired, keep it brief. Summarize the long parts, and get to your point.
  4. Preparation is key. Write your story down and practice telling it. You’re painting a picture with your words, so don’t be afraid to go for it and add some zing.

Grandpa Schirmacher’s pineapple tale has stuck with me over the years, not just as an entertaining tale, but also for the way my father used to tell it. Because of my dad’s vivid descriptions, I can still visualize my grandpa’s view of Hawaii, the people, and his flight through the trees while hanging onto his stolen fruit. Put some jazz into your training, tell a compelling story, and your audience will remember your words for many years to come.

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2 Responses

  1. Jessica Tower

    Great article, Walter! Of course I’ve never met Grandpa Schirmacher but he comes alive in your pineapple story. You definitely get a feel for your family’s sense of humor through the story. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Susan Fisher

    Wonderful illustration of how a simple story can engage! Thanks, Walter!

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