Using Storytelling in Corporate Training

05/23/2019

Training employees at regular intervals ensures that your team is working toward shared goals, with an established set of processes in place. Using storytelling in training is an effective and engaging way to remind employees of your company’s mission and to keep them invested in expected targets and outcomes. Storytelling helps to personalize learning and can provide a structure for specific learning outcomes. The structure of a story provides memory aids, a moral purpose, and an instruction manual for how to navigate problemsall effective in employee training.

Use a Story Arc for Greater Investment

By developing trainings with a story arc (or narrative arc) in mind, you can ensure that employees internalize a presented problem or dilemma and more deeply invest in their role in providing solutions. Remember that a good story should establish the characters and setting and should present conflict of some kind, a journey to finding solutions, and a conclusion where the characters find a resolution that works.

Be sure to set the story in a context employees will relate to. This is particularly helpful for trainings that are especially dry or technical in nature. Just as it is important to consider external audiences’ perspectives, it is important to engage employees where they are. The story you tell should be relevant to employees and should enhance learning and application. Using detailed imagery to establish character, setting, or a particularly suspenseful moment in the story will help employees visualize and relate to the central message and learning objectives.

Break Down Complicated Topics

Storytelling can be helpful in introducing nuanced or complex issues, policies, or tools. Unlike thick training manuals, stories can simplify complex systems in ways that are easier to digest and remember. Stories can also help to make abstract concepts more concrete. Breaking it down for employees can often be achieved if you work backwards: what solution is the training providing? What was the problem? How is the training helping employees work toward a solution?

Establish a Learning Objective

Every good story has a central message. Just as external audiences should be left with a takeaway, your employees need to understand the learning objective of a particular training. This learning objective should be clear throughout the training. By establishing a learning objective early in your story, you will be helping employees internalize the central struggle and inform their future choices. Stories can demonstrate a range of outcomes and consequences as the result of various types of action (or inaction) and can help to drive desired action.

Create Suspense

Every good story has an element of suspense or mystery in it that helps listeners become invested in the ending. By introducing suspense early in your story, you will help employees become invested in the outcome. Appealing to employees’ emotions by engaging them in suspense can be a particularly effective way of shifting attitudes, perspectives, and engagement. Be sure to include your employees in the story you tellthis will engage them in problem-solving as they work to resolve the tension in the story. And as a bonus, working toward resolution can be a way for employees to achieve learning objectives.

Use Specific Kinds of Stories for Different Types of Training

Before you decide what stories you want to tell, you need to first consider the type of training you are providing and the learning objective you wish to impart. New hire trainings will necessarily differ in content and focus from new software trainings. Choosing the right storytelling format for the desired outcome will be important, too. Case studies, games, videos, and role plays can all be effective formats in helping employees achieve a particular learning objective.  

New hire training

Newly hired employees have a steeper learning curve than established employees, so it can be helpful to introduce them to the big picture. Relaying your company’s origin story is a powerful way to orient new employees because it immediately establishes your company’s purpose, philosophy, and workplace culture. New hires who understand these crucial pillars of your company will be more deeply engaged in your policies, processes, and goals.

New product training

Similar to new hire training, sharing the story of how a product came to be can generate greater investment in the product. Who dreamed up the new product, and why? What problem is it solving? By sharing the story of what drove the product’s creation, employees can better understand how it will help and who will most benefit from it. For consumer-facing employees, this type of training might also be enhanced by including consumer stories. Being able to visualize a number of consumer profiles will help marketing and sales departments to improve on how and where they deliver the product.

Application training

Introducing new software or technology into the workplace can be challenging. Often, these changes involve long, technical training with a number of steps. Using storytelling can be a remedy for these typically dry trainings. By building the steps into a story structure, employees will be better able to remember the steps as they work to implement them. Presenting employees with the problem will help them see the steps as the problem-solving needed to work towards a resolution at the end of the story.

Policy training

New company policies are often introduced for very specific reasons. Sharing the story behind a new policy can help to make such trainings less dry. However, sometimes the reasons behind a new policy can be sensitive in nature, so sharing the story behind a new policy might not always be the best option. Remember though, stories can be fictional. By sharing stories of fictional companies dealing with the kinds of problems you hope to avoid, you can retain the power of storytelling without sharing employees’ personal information. Just be sure to make the fictional stories different enough to not raise questions.

Soft skills training

Providing employees with soft skills training can be difficult. These are often skills that are the hardest to pin down, but are usually the most crucial to helping a workplace operate smoothly. Training for skills such as communication, problem solving, teamwork, and flexibility can be tricky. As with policy training, sharing a fictional story to demonstrate the need for soft skills training will help employees become more invested in discussing why and how to implement these skills. Engaging employees in role play scenarios can be an effective way for employees to practice these skills and discover new solutions to tricky interpersonal situations.  

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Just as strong presentations make the audience the hero of the story, making your employees the heroes of your company stories will ensure that your trainings are memorable and effective. Employees who care about the problems you present will be invested in being a part of the solution. Using storytelling in trainings is an easy but powerful way to ensure a lasting investment in your company’s mission and long-term goals.

Emily Withnall

Emily Withnall works as a freelance writer and editor. Emily also teaches poetry in public schools in and outside of Missoula and in the Missoula County Detention Center. Some of her work is available at emilywithnall.com.