“It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”
― Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind
The use of stories in the learning environment can be the most powerful instructional technique in your arsenal. Stories have been used from the earliest time to define our values, dreams, desires as well as document our prejudices and hatreds. Before man learnt how to write, he had to rely on his memory to store information. This was the genesis of storytelling. It became a far more powerful and effective method to retain information and ensuring that important lessons are carried down generations. Storytelling thrived and became a profession on its own merit in Medieval England. Bards were professional story/poet teller employed by the patron and commemorated the happenings of the day and achievements of the patron/ monarch.
Storytelling continues to be alive and well today and trainers are the modern bards who keep the tradition of storytelling alive. Trainers use storytelling extensively to enhance the quality of their training and to get the learners’ attention. Storytelling can be used in different ways and at different points of the training depending on the purpose or objective of usage. Many trainers use stories or anecdotes at the beginning of the training in order to set the tone, establish rapport or create a safe environment for learning. Participants are likely to have greater interest in a workshop on personal fitness and well-being if the trainer starts with a story about his/her own battle with weight and a triumphant ending.
Stories can also be used during the workshop itself to bridge the gap between old and new concepts, get the learners’ attention and appeal to different learning styles and in explaining complex ideas and concepts. People are more likely to understand complex ideas like root cause analysis and six thinking hats if the trainer is able to explain the concept through the use of a story or anecdote. If the trainer is able to explain these concepts using real time examples of Toyota and 3M, there is a greater likelihood of retention and application.
However one chooses to use storytelling in the training, there are certain guidelines that need to be followed to make this method effective. Stories need to be chosen keeping in mind the composition of the participants. Trainers need to make sure that the story being used is not offensive to any particular culture or belief. While there is great incentive placed on using real time stories, trainers should take particular care that the story does not embarrass anyone. A story about a colleague who made a mistake at work that cost the company a lot of money is a story that will definitely drive home the lessons of risk taking and decision making. But is it the best choice? I think not. Try and get the audience involved in the storytelling in some way. For instance, giving them the beginning of the story and getting them to complete the story. If these points are borne in mind, there is no debate that stories and anecdotes is the best medium to bring home many training lessons. It is not for nothing that this technique has survived the test of time. This week we would like to hear from you about the use of storytelling in training. How effective has the use of stories and anecdotes been in your training experiences? How should storytelling be used and what point of the workshop is storytelling most effective?