Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tell a Story

My last post talked about the importance of interactive and engaging trainings in order to appeal to the adult learner.  One of the best and simplistic ways to engage a learner is through the art of storytelling.  Even if you don't think of yourself as a storyteller, the truth is that all humans create stories.  Your stories may not be elaborately made up tales of adventure, but every time you recant your day to a spouse or tell a coworker about what just transpired, you tell a story.  These stories are the most powerful of all because they grip the audience with something they can relate to.

Learners attend training sessions for various reasons and one of those reasons may be because it was mandatory.  In order to incorporate people from all backgrounds and get them interested in the content from the start, you may find that telling a story engages your audience and peaks their interest to want to learn more.  Your stories don't have to be overly involved or complicated, but they should be honest and telling.  When I taught a course on computer basics, I had planned on the target audience to be mostly seniors.  Having planned for this group, I chose to tell a story about me, my grandma, and her computer.  The gist of the story grabbed the audience for two reasons: it was something the learners could relate to and it gave them hope that new things can be learned at any age.

Once you tell a story, it becomes easy to weave it throughout the lesson.  At the end of the computer basics class, everyone had created an email account and sent their very first email to my grandma - and she responded.


Stories help us relate to people and situations.  Without using words that your audience can understand and relate to, you risk losing their attention and doom your training success.  Instead, take advantage of stories and the use of similes and metaphors to bring a message home.  You can easily get a point across with a story.  Going back to the computer basics class, similes and metaphors helped the learners to visualize what a computer is and how it functions.  By incorporating something the class is already familiar with (in this case it was a file cabinet,) you ensure that every learner is on even footing and understands the content.

 If you've developed a story that is relatable and makes an emotional connection to the audience, you can almost guarantee that the individual learner will remember what you've taught them.  But remembering is no good!  The point of training is to make a change in behavior and/or thought processes; trainees should retain information and recall it later to implement change.  My computer basics class taught how to teach computers, yes, but it should have also changed the way the attendees thought about and related to their computer.  In order to motivate them to continue using computers, I using real world stories which explain why the attendee should learn a specific topic, increases their likelihood that a change in behavior will occur.

It may seem like using real world examples in the classroom is a no-brainer but if you think back to grade school and how many times you thought "when am I actually going to use this stuff," you will realize that we teachers do an incredible job of explaining how but can be a little shaky on the why.  It takes both, however, to make a training successful.

If you're thinking that you don't have any stories to tell, think again.  Sometimes, the story is not even your own, but the story of a friend, family, or coworker.  That's okay! Once you've used a story to establish an emotional connection, related to your trainees through metaphors and similes, and explained the why via real world examples, the result will get you buy-in from your learners as you begin to change their thought process.

Special thanks to Michelle Sienkiewicz for sharing an article about storytelling which inspired me to write this post.

No comments: