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Telling stories

March 11, 2009

Good storytelling enhances our recollection of events because it targets our emotions and imagination. It is almost primal, stemming from ancestors who excelled at wrapping up the growing knowledge and experience of generations in a package of suspense, humour and excitement.

If we are to achieve similar results by including storytelling as part of our training program, there area six guidelines that we need to follow. The stories must:

  • Enhance the theory
  • Be progressive
  • Explain why
  • Use emotion
  • Use multiple senses
  • Be personal.

The story must enhance the theory. It mustn’t replace the theory nor should you just repeat or regurgitate the doctrine back to the student. Instead, we are describing the application in context with experience.

The story must be progressive. A well told story will have an introduction, a body and a conclusion. It will set the scene, describe the challenge, outline the hurdles and will end with a conclusion or climax. Sure the problem need not be solved, but it will at lease explain why the solutions offered failed.

The story must explain why. This is not just a simple recount of events. As the story unfolds, the origins of the theory or the reasons why particular procedures or actions are used should become obvious.
The story must use emotion. Emotion exists to reinforce learning – use it. Use intrigue or suspense to build up interest or curiosity; you can leave some questions unanswered to get the student to do some of their own investigation. Also use horror, humour, shock or surprise the add clout to the lesson.

The story must us multiple senses. Use the reader’s imagination by describing what can be seen, heard or felt. When speaking use visual cues such a gestures and expression. Also use aural cues such as tone and pace. If writing, change styles, perspective or tone to emphasise important points.

The story must be personal. We like stories because we can relate to them. We know what it is like to be sad, happy or angry. We have all been students, been teachers (even informally), failed or overcome adversity some time in the past. We also have empathy for those in hopeless situations or suffering from a substantial loss.

So why go to all this trouble?

If we understand why we do something, not only are we more likely to remember to do it in the appropriate circumstances, but we are better able to determine the result if we vary our actions whilst we are doing it. So when we ask someone to do a task (autonomously – not as a direction or order) and we want to them have the greatest chance of success, we need to explain what effect that action will have on the rest of the environment.

We can better reinforce this with a few other techniques (like those listed above) and using stories is an effective way of including how this particular practice fits in with our goals and objectives. If the student can see its affect on the outcome, they will understand why doing it to the best of their ability is in the best interests of themselves and the rest of the organisation.

Download my free e-book “NOW YOU TELL ME” The seven things that I wish I’d known before I started training on the job.

New e-book coming soon “THE WORKPLACE TRAINER’S TOOL KIT” 8 models for effective on the job training.

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