Tell Me a Story

Karl asks Stephen Denning about the power of storytelling.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending and speaking at the 5th Annual Kaplan-EduNeering Knowledge Summit (more about my speaking with Nadira Hira in another post.) I really enjoy these knowledge summits. I meet some wonderful speakers and great Kaplan-EduNeering clients. The entire event is about sharing knowledge and sharing innovative ideas about learning from the well-known speakers to the stories and examples of Kaplan-EduNeering clients who are doing amazing learning initiatives from training their clients to rolling out internal training programs to thousands of people to targeting talent with specific learning opportunities.

This year I met Stephen Denning, author of several books on story telling or as Stephen calls it “the art and discipline of business narrative.” He spoke about the importance of creating good “stories” to persuade your listeners and how a story can provide the momentum to take action when facts, statistics and figures fall short of the mark. He makes a compelling argument.

Stephen’s focus is on leadership through story telling and not just any stories, he provides careful direction on crafting and presenting the right story for the right situation. Even though he frames it from a leadership perspective, if you look at it from a pure training perspective, this stuff is gold in crafting learning events as well.

Many people talk about using stories for learning but what I like about Stephen’s work is he provides a detailed framework to craft the story to deliver the correct message.

Throughout his presentation, I busily took notes on my iPhone. One of the first things he does is ask the audience members to turn to each other and tell a story. He then debriefs and says something like “see how a story unlocks the energy in the room. If you want to build energy in a room, have learners tell each other stories.” What a great idea. If you are doing any type of stand up instruction, start the class by asking the learners to tell each other a story related to the topic you are about to teach.

Stephen then talked about telling a story of what the world would look like as a result of the change you are seeking.

So tell a story describing the type of behavior you anticipate from the learners after they attend your class or view your on-line learning module. End the story with something positive and motivational for the learner.

Stephen recommends the stories you use to help bring about change be: Truthful, Positive, have Minimal Detail and have a Specific Outcome. Don’t forget a happy ending for the person in the story who changed behavior as a result of the learning event.

He said that positive stories are great for bringing about change while stories that are negative (if we don’t change…this bad thing will happen) are really only good for gaining attention but then you need to follow with a positive story to bring about the change.

So in your e-learning, start with a story having a negative outcome and then end the learning event with a positive story.

My own recommendation is to have the story after the final “quiz” often the last impression of a course we leave with a learner is “You got 80% correct, congratulations.” Instead, after the quiz, lead them into a story with a positive outcome of someone who learned the material and provided the organization and themselves with a positive result. Try it.

Get a hold of Stephen’s books and check them out. But if you can only order one, I recommend “The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling.” From a training perspective, the tools in that book can be quickly adapted to designing stories for learning.

What is also so interesting about storytelling from a design perspective is that narrative and stories are integral parts of video games which is part of what makes them so engaging. They provide a context in which the video game player interacts. So stories need to be part of the learning events we build or we are missing a huge opportunity.

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Posted in: Out and About

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1 Comment

  1. BARTON May 16, 2008

    If you haven’t read “A whole new mind” yet by Dan Pink, it’s a great read. One chapter is dedicated to story and narrative as a core skill of the next generation of workers. Also a great chapter on design being a core skill.

Karl Kapp
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