Note: This is Part Two of a three-part series about knowing your audience as a Storyteller.
A dear friend of mine told me this story about her 11-year-old son, who experiences issues of lack of ability to focus during classroom and homework learning. We are not mentioning her name and have changed her son's name to 'Mason' for privacy reasons.
"He gets so frustrated when he can't focus and that has really affected his self-esteem. And he is such a smart, funny kid," my friend told me.
But here is what happened when they went to the pediatrician:
“What is your favorite car?” the doctor asked Mason.
“Is that what your mom drives?”
“No she drives a MINI Cooper," he replied, eyes rolling around in his head. After all, a MINI Cooper is a 'mom' car, at least to an 11-year-old.
"So here’s the thing, Mason," said his pediatrician. "Your brain is like a Ferrari, but it has brakes like a MINI Cooper. So when it is racing so fast that you can’t slow it down, you lose focus. The medication that I need you to take every day are your 'Ferrari brakes.’ They will help that great brain of yours slow down and focus."
“I get that!” Mason said, excitedly.
His mom told me that her son goes around telling everyone about his 'Ferrari brain' and the medication he takes for it.
The moral of this story: First of all, it Is not about ‘dumbing down’ or 'talking down’ to Mason. This doctor found a way of relating to her audience. She knew that Mason loves cars. And she did not need to go into the medical, physical and chemical jargon of why his brain is unable to focus at this time in his life.
Secondly, by using metaphors and items that Mason could relate to, she empowered this smart, funny 11-year old boy to take his medicine and not be ashamed of his medical condition. According to his mom: "His teacher noticed the difference in Mason's focus the first day after he started the medication."
That is knowing your audience!
Would it were that more doctors did that. And in fairness, some of them do.
In Part Three of this series, I'll provide another example where I was the patient.