The Power of Stories

“Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there lived a king…”

“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”

Most of us grew up listening to stories of faraway lands with knights in shining armor rescuing beautiful princesses from monsters and space stations destroying planets. These stories have elements of mystery and intrigue associated with them, which makes them interesting. However, the types of stories we use in trainings are a lot different from fairytales. The theme is never too mysterious and unknown, in fact; the closer the story is to our lives, the more effective its impact on the learner.

Elements of an Effective Story

The human race has used stories for thousands of years to personalize knowledge. We remember stories much better than content explanation. Research shows that from a very young age, we understand the basic structure (the beginning, middle, and end) of narratives. However, the ability to be a good storyteller is not inborn; you can always learn it. Lead your listeners by creating suspense and curiosity; use verbal pacing through pauses and varied speaking rates; and prepare and plan your stories.

Gone are the days when creating ‘forced’ real-life scenarios was considered an effective strategy in making the audience feel connected to the training content. Today, sessions designed for ice breaking, warm-up, wrap-up, and context building are increasingly using suitable stories and anecdotes to engage the learner throughout the instructional process.

To ensure the effectiveness of your story, you need to choose one that has a clearly defined single concept, a well-developed plot, and well-formed dramatically appealing characters. Most importantly, the story should be suitable for all your listeners and relevant to your instructional content. While telling the story, it is extremely important to have a proper beginning, which introduces the characters and the conflict; the body, in which the conflict leads to the climax; and the end of the story that shows the resolution of the conflict. Once you finish the story, stop. Do not feel that you have to explain everything. Let your listeners think about the story, and derive their own meaning from it.

Presenting with Stories

Have you ever wondered why during the majority of presentations you find yourself lost in a sea of content and have to struggle to make sense of PowerPoint slide after slide overflowing with information? Even the most carefully researched and analyzed efforts meet cynicism or dismissal in this form. Yet we could easily engage listeners on a new level if we do away with drab PowerPoint slides and learn to tell good stories instead. Stories are how we remember; we forget bullet lists and graphs.

Too often presentations try to sweep all the difficulties, the villains, and the struggle under the carpet. We prefer to present a rosy (in other words, fake and boring) picture of the world. What we should do is position problems in the foreground and then show how we can overcome them. When you tell the story of your struggles against real adversaries, your audience sees you as an exciting, dynamic person or organization.

Emotions Move People to Action

We need to understand that in order to get a required result or bring about a desired change, we cannot rely on the belief that people are inspired to act by reason alone. Therefore, the most powerful solution is to unite an idea or concept with an emotion. The best way to do this is by telling a gripping story. Essentially, a story expresses how and why life changes. It begins with a situation in which life is in balance and everything is fine. Then, an incident takes place that throws life out of balance for the central character. The story continues to describe how the central character’s expectations clash with an unforgiving reality in an effort to restore balance.

Gear Stories to the Audience

To ensure that your stories effectively engage participants, it is important that you know your audience. If you do not know you audience, you do not know which stories are appropriate or how to optimize them. Next, try to engage your audience’s emotions by using powerful images and appeal to as many of their senses as possible. You need to teach clearly and directly through the story. If you think about the best inspirational speeches that you have heard, there is a lesson at the end of them. The speaker first draws us in by telling us a story, which uses familiar situations we all understand, and helps the audience relate to the speaker as a human being. Only after hearing the story are we receptive to the lesson entailed.

Uses of Storytelling

In any learning environment, storytelling can be one of the most powerful instructional techniques in your repertoire. It can help you get learners’ attention and as a result, aid with the retention of course information. You can use storytelling at the beginning of, during, or at the end of training but every time you use it, you need to know the purpose in order to have the greatest impact.

Stories at the beginning of a training discourse help set the tone and establish rapport. During the discourse, you can use stories to create a link between the old and the new or complex concepts/ideas and hence, hold the attention of the learners. Finally, you can use stories at the end of your discourse to aid in retention of the information.

Another interesting fact about storytelling is that you can use it to not only tell about the past but also, effectively project the future by creating scenarios of possible future events. However, to ensure that your story is not boring and predictable, you should avoid telling a beginning-to-end tale describing how results meet expectations. Instead, display the struggle between expectation and reality, in all of its wickedness.

Guidelines for Effective Storytelling

There are certain guidelines that you can follow for making your storytelling session as effective as possible:

  • Involve the learner in your storytelling to create a connection.
  • Make sure the story is relevant to the subject matter. If it is not, resist the urge to tell it, however interesting it may seem!
  • Check your story for anything that may make someone uncomfortable (In other words, avoid stories that accidentally make fun of a culture or belief.)
  • Make the story short and to the point. Even an extremely good story that goes on for too long loses steam.

With careful thought and planning, storytelling can be a powerful tool to grab learners’ attention, engage them throughout the instructional process, and help with the retention of information. So, start weaving interesting stories to enhance your instructional skills!

AUTHOR
Sana Rashid Siddiqui

Sana Rashid Siddiqui

About the author: Sana Rashid Siddiqui, with a Masters Degree in English, has been working as an Instructional Designer and Training Needs Analyst for more than a decade. She is a British Council certified master trainer and has worked with prestigious elearning and publishing companies to create the most effective learning solutions for different training/teaching delivery media. She firmly believes in free knowledge sharing and is an active volunteer for Times of India’s ‘Teach India’ campaign and Bharat Learn’s curriculum design and implementation. An avid nature and music lover, she gives vent to her innate creative abilities through poetry.

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