Storytelling has always been a powerful communication tool. They date back over 39,000 years to when some of the first cave paintings graced stone walls to illustrate the past. Stories function as a fundamental platform for knowledge – and for good reason.
It all has to do with the human brain. When stories are told, our brains react in a considerably different manner than when facts are merely presented. Spanish researchers discovered that when glyphs like bullet points were displayed, the Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area of the brain were activated. These parts are responsible for language processing. Their activation showed that language was being processed and the brains made meaning of the words, yet beyond this, there was no other significant brain stimulation.
Stories, however, have the power to put the WHOLE brain to work. Each area of the brain that is stimulated while experiencing some sort of event, is also triggered when a story is told.
And the advantages don’t stop there. Buffer reported on another study finding that stories trigger brain areas that can transcend a story’s morals into their own personal ideas and experiences. In simpler terms, narratives make lessons stick.
Using Stories in Business Training
Clearly, stories hold some serious staying power. They engage your audience, help them retain information and capture people’s attention. All of this evidence provides a compelling case for using stories in training initiatives. On the marketing side of things, 78 percent of CMOs think content is the future of marketing. More and more enterprises are turning their marketing departments into newsrooms. Brands are increasingly becoming publishers to move prospects through the marketing funnel until they become customers. How? By telling engaging stories to their audiences.
Storytelling is not limited to just marketing. Storytelling can be used in all facets of communication within an organization, especially in learning & development. The end goal of any training initiative is to have your trainees comprehend and retail key organizational values. Stories help achieve this goal. Business materials should play on the science of engagement.
In fact, Harvard Business Review contributor and researcher Paul J. Zak found that stories are greatly pragmatic for organizational use. According to his studies, employees are considerably more motivated by a business’s transcendent purpose versus transactional ones. In simpler words, this means people value how an organization helps the world versus how it sells its goods or services.
“Employees are considerably more motivated by a business’ transcendent purpose over transactional ones.”
As such, a clear motive of trainers, especially for onboarding new staff members, should be to communicate the company’s transcendent purpose. Stories are the natural medium for this information. Training, sales and marketing heads can detail real-life scenarios with real-life solutions. Zak noted that this helps staff members empathize with customers and ultimately share the joy of a company solution. Combine that with the persuasive power of stories and your end result is an employee with empathy and understanding of client problems and business solutions.
Stories also help provide greater meaning to basic business concepts. Instead of seeing a list of stats and figures, employees learn to relate on a deeper level to company goals or milestones. You will grab your audience’s attention, by helping customers see things in a clear light.
“All stories need proper context, action, and result.”
The merits of storytelling are pretty clear. Yet, the execution of a good story can be a difficult task. There are some key aspects that factor into a particularly exceptional narrative. Remember, a poorly plotted tale is almost as bad as no tale at all. Here are 5 quick tips for crafting the perfect story:
- Follow the Classic Structure: All good stories require 3 main ingredients: context, action and result. A narrative simply can not exist without background information. Mind Tools explained that forgoing context is one of the most common mistakes of storytellers. Set the scene before you jump into the meat of your story. Action is simple – it involves setbacks, conflicts or failures that the main character of the story must overcome. Every good story needs tension, these struggles are what your audience will relate to most. Lastly, stories conclude with some sort of resolution. This needs to be approached carefully. Explain your character’s fate thoroughly, but only hint at subtle suggestions about the takeaway as it pertains to training. If you have to lay it all out literally, then the story is not a success.
- Avoid Jargon: Leave the cliches at home. According to Buffer, phrases laced with jargon are useless to your listeners. Researchers have found that the brain’s frontal cortex is in no way stimulated by tired phrases like “a rough day” or “a dime a dozen.” The brain’s frontal cortex is the area that allows you to experience emotions. Stories absent of emotion are essentially useless. When crafting your next narrative, keep your wording as original as possible. Otherwise, you run the risk of an emotional shutdown.
- Keep It Short: When creating a story for training you want to keep the message simple. Quite frankly, the briefer the better. eLearning Industry suggested finding a balance between brevity and creativity in order to avoid cognitive overload. This doesn’t mean cutting down the story to the point where it no longer sounds like a story, but rather keeping the conflicts and characters to a minimum. Simplistic language is the ideal way to trigger brain areas that stimulate relation and understanding. As such, a best practice is to keep not only the length of your narrative short but also its language. Simple yet poignant should do the trick.
- Ignite with Imagery: Want to tell a truly stellar story? Pair it up with some visuals and your audience will better process and retain the information you are providing. According to HubSpot, the brain can process images about 60,000 times faster than text. This makes sense when you consider that 70 percent of all human sensory receptors are located in the eye. Humans are visual creatures. Just think of the last PowerPoint you saw riddled with text. Wouldn’t a picture or a video have better caught your attention? Emphasize the key elements of your narrative with visual aids and your trainees will be sure to have a firm grasp on your messaging.
“Find a balance between brevity and creativity to avoid cognitive overload.”
- Don’t Force It: While stories are a great way to engage your audience throughout your training initiatives, you should never force the process. Know when a lesson lends itself to a narrative and when it might simply be better suited for another channel. An ill-suited story won’t land well and may even disengage your audience, so make sure the material is worth the time and effort.
Training can be tricky. You are tasked with shaping the talent of employees across the organization. Finding the right tools and channels is crucial for crafting learning and development materials. Stories are a highly effective method and when they are paired with other interactive learning techniques your training is sure to be a success.