Transforming Training and Development With Storytelling
by Employers Council Staff
Along with everything else in the workplace, expectations for training and development are shifting, rising and changing.
“This transformation is all about the new kind of digitally minded learner, their identity and their experience,” says Jeff Samek, Learning and Development Manager at Employers Council. “Learners want to see themselves reflected in their training and development. Learners are inspired and excited about content that includes them.”
The switch from top-down teaching to learner-focused engagement can be difficult for training and development teams to accomplish—especially if they are short-staffed and pressed for time. Fortunately, Jeff has a suggestion for teams struggling to create (or commission) compelling workshops, webinars and sessions:
“One of the oldest, most fundamental things to being human is telling and sharing stories,” Jeff says, reporting that employees now expect training that is engaging, not just educational. “Storytelling is a part of that.”
Not only is storytelling core to our historical human experience, it’s also a fundamental part of our modern, minute-to-minute digital lives.
“Think about the kind of content people consume on a daily basis,” Jeff says. “Why do influencers do so well? Why are so many people captivated by them? Because they tell a story.”
The constant access to story-driven content—much of it with a higher production value than anyone could have predicted even a decade ago—is changing organizations’ approaches to training and development.
“Telling a story through your training is now much more possible,” Jeff reports, “if you look to what is happening in the mainstream.”
Learning specialists can take their cues from novel, film, TV and short-content storytellers. There are many story structure outlines, guides and resources available online to help craft more engaging training sessions. One of the most popular—and simple—is Pixar’s fill-in-the-blank storytelling guide1:
- Once upon a time there was ___.
- Every day, ___.
- One day ___.
- Because of that, ___.
- Because of that, ___.
- Until finally ___.
Compare that structure to the outline of the most recent training session you led or attended. Which feels more compelling? What would the training outline look like if it was shaped into a story?
“If I’m doing a leadership series, what’s the story of leadership I want to tell from start to finish?” Jeff asks. “If people aren’t seeing themselves in that story, then they’re not going to continue to buy our products.”
Using a familiar story structure can help make training and development sessions feel organic, natural and engaging. Grounding lessons in characters can help participants relate to the material. Introducing high-stakes problems can keep trainees involved in their own learning. Presenting information as the solution to those problems makes sessions more relevant and memorable.
Storytelling is the difference between handing over a list of topics and facts and actually meeting the needs of your audience, says Jeff. And it’s just one way HR professionals can create high-impact training and development materials for the new workplace.
- “22 Tips on the Pixar Storytelling Formula,” by Ryan Koo. Nofilmschool.com. 13 June 2012. Accessed 19 July 2022.