How to Reach the Distracted Parent

We’ve all heard the reports; attention spans are shrinking.

You are being told that parents are always distracted.
If that’s true, how do we explain the rise of binge-watching (Netflix) and the success of podcasts and long-form articles?

What we’re witnessing, in fact, is parents becoming more demanding and better at filtering whom they trust to get advice from.

Following years of information overload, they've decided that "drinking from a firehose is a horrible way to get hydration."

  • Number of emails sent/received every day: 270 billion
  • Number of powerpoints given every day: 35 million
  • Average time spent browsing a site: 12 seconds in 2000 -> 8 seconds in 2015

Parents now spend all their attention on a select few sources that have earned it. Failure to stand out and earn their attention is an existential threat for your school.

In a culture of speed-dating, quick fixes, fast food, bullet trains, and BuzzFeed, some of us know how to go beyond grabbing and sustaining attention.

We create meaning, we build connections, we develop relationships, we earn trust, we form a deeper affinity with prospective parents.


One of the mistakes schools often make is to only communicate for the thinking parent and her rational mind. Messages that resonate deeply connect with parents' feelings.
In fact, parents decide with their heart and then rationalize with their brain.

We can't persuade parents to act. We have to move them to act.

The secret is to serve your parent audience with high-quality content wrapped in engaging stories. Stories create meaning, capture attention and inspire action.

The essential foundation of every story is to elicit emotion. But for your intents and purposes, the ultimate metric of a good story is action.
At Enrollhand, our definition of storytelling is "the art and science of making things matter and moving prospective parents to act."

Here's our proven 5-step framework for school storytelling:

1.   Start by designing your story's character
At their core stories are very simple: A character has a desire. There are many obstacles in her way to achieving her goal. She overcomes these obstacles through brains and/or grit.

So start by deciding who your story's hero will be.
The great thing about school storytelling is that you have hundreds of interesting personalities passing through every year (parents, students, educators, administrators).
They all have exciting and intriguing stories to tell.

Your stories do not have to be masterpieces of drama and inspiration. Any simple, subtle narrative will impact your prospective parents' thinking.


2.  Be implicit

Being explicit doesn't get you far with your readers. If you talk about their problem directly, the reader often cannot see anything other than the problem itself. They cannot explore solutions from a different perspective. There is no lateral thinking, no creativity, no problem-solving. The reader usually rationalizes her view and digs in.

Through storytelling, we do not attack the problem head-on.
By being artfully vague, we draw a parallel situation to that of the parent. We then let the parent draw the connection herself and come to her own realization.


3.   Open with the open-loop technique
An open loop is a teaser. You open with a dramatic scene filled with tension and don't immediately provide a satisfactory resolution. This triggers intense curiosity for the reader who is nudged to read-on in order to close the loop.

An open-loop example could be, "Breakfast with my little Sarah used to be my best time of day..."
-> It "used to be," but not anymore; so something must have happened in the meantime...
or  "He was skeptical because of what happened the last time."
-> What happened last time?


4.  Choose a theme and stick to it

Every story has themes – whether they're consciously explored or simmering under the surface. The exploration of different themes adds depth and layers to any story, especially if those themes are universal.

A few universal themes for your school's story may include: Change versus tradition, Character building, Circle of life, Coming of age, Dangers of ignorance, Empowerment, Faith versus doubt, Family, Fate and free will, Fulfillment, Self-reliance and Autonomy, Wisdom of experience, Beating the odds, Devotion and Generosity


5.  Ust the Hero's Journey
The Hero's Journey is an archetypal story pattern, common in ancient myths as well as modern-day adventures.
It was first described by mythologist Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces and refined by Christopher Vogler in his book The Writer's Journey.

  • Expose a real, challenging situation, major change or inherent weakness that one of your school leaders has faced (you should not use their real names of course).
  • Dig into his/her distress, and/or tension with powerful emotional vocabulary.
  • Seek out, visualize and describe the lowest point during the pathway to resolution and how this was the turning point.
  • Describe the series of steps and hard work needed to turn this problem around.
  • Draw a generalized conclusion from this event. What is the broad learning that can be applied to similar cases?