People have been telling stories since the dawn of humanity. How is this ancient art relevant in our digital world? Just as early humans used stories to teach important lessons, learning and development professionals can use stories to help learners understand and remember important information. A good story brings abstract concepts to life and makes them memorable.

Our Digital World Is Overwhelming.

Learners today are inundated with content. Not only are people consuming more content, but they also create more content than ever before. How can learning and development professionals cut through that digital noise and connect with our learners? One of the most useful tools we have available to us to bring back human connection is storytelling.

Search Your Own Personal Archives.

The best source of stories is your own life and experience. Drawing from your own history, you can create a library of stories – poignant ones, humorous ones, inspiring ones. Because we know our own experience-based stories so well, we can tell them with authenticity, credibility and more passion than we can when telling borrowed stories.

We all possess a rich database of personal experience, but often, we simply don’t make the time or effort to drill down into our own memory bank and pull out the bounty floating just below the surface. To tap into your personal story library, take a few minutes with a blank piece of paper and write about:

  • Key turning points or events that have shaped your life or career
  • A learning and development mentor who influenced your career
  • Happy, sad or traumatic events and what they have meant to you

Think about how these events have influenced your life, your decisions and your career. Consider how these experiences demonstrate your success or helped you learn from failure. What parallels can you draw between your past and present experiences? How might these observations be of value to your learners?

Borrow Stories.

When your own story archives don’t give you the material you need, you can borrow stories from others. You can tell stories about friends, family or famous people to help you shape your message and make your point. Just be sure to credit the story to the person. You can also use familiar stories from history, fables and literature.

Tips for Crafting Your Story

Here are four tips to help you create compelling and memorable stories to engage learners:

1. Choose your stories with care.

Selecting the right story for the right situation takes time and thought. First, it must be a story that everyone in the audience can relate to – perhaps based on a common fear or experience. Second, the story must be clear and stand on its own merit. Finally, the story must connect elegantly with the topic and the objective of the learning.

2. Keep them short and to-the-point.

Your story should be vivid, concrete, and easy for you to tell and for your listeners to follow. Know exactly why you are telling the story, and know when and where to use it. Keep your story relevant to your message, and avoid straying from the main point. Deliver it crisply and without extraneous detail.

3. Give your stories a hook.

Begin your story with a hook that captures your audience’s emotions and imagination. It can be a question, place, circumstance or premise that your audience will understand and identify with.

4. Practice, practice, practice.

The most important way to develop the skills to tell punchy, emotional stories is to practice. Good stories have a mood and a flow to them, and, even though they’re well-rehearsed, they need to sound fresh and spontaneous. Captivating stories also demand flawless delivery uninfected by verbal viruses such as “um,” “ah,” “OK” or the great plague word of our times: “like.”

Let the Light In.

Sir Laurence Olivier once said that a well-told story is to a presentation what a window is to a house – it lets the light in! So, the next time you deliver training, devote preparation time to developing a good story. Your learners will love that light.