How to Tell Powerful Stories - 3 Tips

Let me ask you a question. 

Would you rather learn about corruption in local governments by seeing a list of bullet points on a PowerPoint slide, or by watching The Wire

Okay, that's probably not a fair comparison, but you get my point. Telling an engaging story is critical to the learning experience. In fact, storytelling has been a critical part of passing knowledge from one person to the next for millennia

Ancient cave paintings and hieroglyphics tell stories of great battles and heroes, passing lessons learned onto the next generation. 

But here we are, in a world where learning in a corporate setting is somehow different. 

I'll let you in on a little secret - it's not

Telling a powerful story connects the audience to the lessons and principles you're trying to convey. Plus, people will retain the story longer than any stats, data or principles you tell them.

So, if you want your employees to pay attention, you need to become a good storyteller - and even if you're not a natural, there's still hope.

Here are 3 tips to tell powerful stories to create engaging training for your audience:

How to tell powerful stories - 3 tips

1. Tell a beginning, middle and end

Presentation expert and CEO of Duarte Design, Nancy Duarte says the key to inspiring your audience through storytelling is to following this specific story structure:

  • Beginning: establish the status quo and compare to what it could be — the ideal
  • Middle: traverse back and forth between status quo and ideal
  • End: call to action; describe the world as a new utopia where your ideal is adopted

Down, up, down, up, down, up, down, up… (end).

By following this presentation “shape,” you can keep employees listening and engaged even during a dull legal training presentation. 

2. Build suspense and curiosity

Here are 2 stories. Which one better keeps your attention?

- Bob ran into the road in front of a car. His dog ran into the road, grabbed his shirt and pulled them both to safety.

- The basketball hit the rim and took a hard bounce. Rolling into the road, the ball was on its way to the stream across the street. Bob turned and ran after it - he couldn't let the ball get in the water or it would be lost forever. As Bob sprinted into the road, he turned in horror as a blue Ford truck bore down on him at a huge rate of speed. The blaring honk of the horn drowned out Bob's screams as he contemplated his certain doom. Suddenly, a black blur rushed in from Bob's peripheral. It was Macaroni - the family's black lab. Macaroni leaped from the curb and grabbed Bob's t-shirt. As the truck flew past, Macaroni pulled them both clear from certain death. 

(btw, that question above was rhetorical)

If you don't create suspense, you can't connect with the audience who will be just as bored as if you didn't tell the story at all.

3. Relate and adapt the story to your learners

Finally, it's important to relate and adapt the story to your specific learners. While there are certainly stories that everyone can resonate with (see our friend Macaroni, above), sometimes you need to get specific. If you're going to tell a story about an antitrust violation to illustrate "do's and don'ts" for the salespeople, you likely won't get the attention of the local HR rep who works exclusively with manufacturing employees. 

Make sure you understand your audience. Know their daily routines and pain points. Know what topics they're likely to think about and what topics they'll never need to know. 

Also, you need to think about cultural, generational and geographical differences when you have large groups. Make your story can cut across these definitions to be relevant and engaging to a wider audience. 

Ultimately, storytelling is about making training fun and engaging, which is absolutely critical to effective training. Make sure to take your time to create suspenseful and engaging stories for your audience.

If you want engaging training, but don't have time to think up amazing stories, check out our custom legal training services!