I’m sure you’ve heard by now that storytelling can make learning more effective. Stories help us process and remember information. Perhaps they even touch a part of our consciousness associated with the magic and creativity of childhood.
In my desire to become a better storyteller, I attended a session on the subject while at the Presentation Summit, a conference where the topics overlap surprisingly well with the interests of training professionals and learning specialists.
Here are the key points I gathered from a session titled, The Art of Storytelling, presented by Jon Thomas. I modified them for learning experience designers as needed.
1. Stories are the emotional glue that connects the audience to the message
Much of what people remember from a learning experience are the feelings of the underlying message rather than a multitude of small facts (which are better reserved for job aids). Stories are an important way to tap into the heart of the audience, providing a channel for conveying a deeper message based on emotion.
2. Information presentation should be constructed around a story
Any kind of presentation—whether it be online training or a live presentation—will benefit from a story construction. Organizing information into a format with a beginning (setting the stage), middle (the challenge) and ending (new reality) can work for many topics.
3. People want to know about origins
When we watch or read about a superhero, we always remember the person’s origins. We know where they came from and the circumstances that created their super powers. People are defined by their origins and people are curious about where people (or fictional characters) come from, how they change and how they evolve. Include this type of information in your next story.
4. Stories reshape knowledge into something meaningful
For centuries, people have used stories to pass on knowledge. When information is embedded in the context of a story, it is transferred to a listener or reader in a unique way. According to the presenter of this session, new research shows that 70% of what we learn is consumed through storytelling.
5. Stories make people care
When you know your audience—their pains, frustrations and joys—your stories can reflect their emotions and experiences. As learners begin to see themselves in the story and begin to identify with it, they start to care. Nancy Duarte, author of Resonate, states that a story serves as a moment of emotional appeal.
6. Stories transcend one’s current environment
Good storytelling can transport learners out of their stuffy meeting rooms and offices into an adventurous world away from the workplace. In this altered reality, the mind becomes more open to perceiving and thinking in new ways. This is an ideal position from which to learn.
7. Stories are motivating
Stories can motivate an audience toward a learning goal. They are ideal for attitudinal training because when an audience is motivated, they no longer need to be persuaded. An encouraging story will inspire someone to take action.
8. People take time for stories
Have you ever noticed that even the busiest of people will stop to listen to someone’s story or to tell one of their own? Stories are why people are drawn to novels and movies and gossip magazines. If you want to maintain an audience’s attention, you’re more likely to do it through storytelling.
9. Stories are more likely to be shared
Because we are so attuned to stories, people love to share them. They are like hooks that draw people in as they are passed from one person to the next. If you have any doubts, check out the thousands of Facebook Stories. This is where people share how they use Facebook and the meaning it has in their life. Do you need to spread the word about something? Put it in a story and see if it gets shared.
10. Stories give meaning to data
Many people perceive data as meaningless numbers. This happens when the data is disconnected to anything important in their experience. But when the data is placed in the context of a story, it comes alive. One of the most well-known examples of this is Hans Rosling’s presentation below. If you haven’t seen it yet, take the four minutes to watch.