Storytelling has been a popular tool for learning since the dawn of civilization, but thanks to technology bringing new mediums for storytelling, it has been on the rise in training in the workplace. Despite the fact that storytelling is a powerful vehicle for teaching, some still prefer to do a "data dump" because it's easier than constructing a narrative, though not more effective. Below I provide 5 reasons why storytelling should be used more frequently in the workplace.
1. Stories make us care
The most powerful way to make someone care isn't through creating training with all the bells and whistles, but through telling a story that resonates with the target audience. Creating good training is like making a cake. If you don't get the core ingredients right, it doesn't matter how great the frosting is.
We are wired for story. The reason stories have continued to be popular for thousands of years is that they are a survival mechanism. They allow us to learn from the experiences of others without directly having to experience the event ourselves. Stories make us care by making the abstract concrete and relatable.
As cognitive scientist Steven Pinker explains, "Fictional narratives supply us with a mental catalogue of the fatal conundrums we might face someday and the outcomes of strategies we could deploy in them."
2. Stories engage our emotions
A good story has the power to make us laugh or cry, sometimes both. In my opinion, this is the most powerful component of storytelling. Almost all good stories deal with change. Conveniently, almost all good training involves the goal of changing or influencing behavior. After all, the goal of acquiring knowledge isn't to store it, but to apply it, which usually means a change in what you're currently doing.
Emotions are at the core of behavior change. Often we know what we should do, but don’t actually do it until we feel that we should. Stories help us change our behavior by engaging our emotions.
3. Stories make the abstract concrete
Resistance to changing behavior doesn’t always come from people being stubborn about any new change. Resistance to change often stems from being uncertain of how to act next. Someone might know they should eat “healthy” or exercise, but that advice is too abstract to be helpful. A story of how one person manages their day while eating a healthy diet would be much more helpful in producing change.
ERP system training represents a large challenge for many organizations. As we have written before, storytelling helps add the why to ERP system training. A story can help take the abstract concepts of the ERP system (terminology, vendors, procedures, etc) and condense them into a concrete example the learner can understand.
A story takes the abstract and makes it concrete by putting in context of how the information will be used and why it is important. Context creates clarity which eliminates barriers to action.
4. Stories help clarify what we should do
Stories provide specific examples of what to do and what not to do in situations. A story is a way for us to perform mental simulations and analyze different options without having to go through the actual experience.
A good example of where this would be helpful is emergency preparedness training. The learner can understand what they should do in several situations without having to live through a variety of actual emergencies (thankfully).
5. Stories teach us cause and effect
It can be easy to lose scope of one’s position and the larger consequences each action has. Through storytelling, the learner can come to understand the larger effect that their actions have or will have on others. Stories of people making what seemed like logical decisions to them, but had negative consequences on the whole can be very powerful in providing guidance in decision making.
There are only 5 reasons, but there are many more. How have you used storytelling in training?