Storytelling is a powerful tool for promoting learning. When we tell a story, we are contextualizing the core concepts being taught, making the learning more interesting and memorable. For example, below is a story that I tell at the beginning of my program on “Global Leadership and Cultural Intelligence” (GLACI). The story ties together the course’s core concepts.
MY STORY/DILEMMA AND PARTICIPANTS’ ENGAGEMENT
One of India’s largest pharmaceuticals selected my organization to support the company’s major initiative to integrate Indian leaders and managers with their American counterparts as the company planned to build several offices and factories in the U.S.
They wanted to begin with a program for their American employees on understanding Indian culture and management. We would simultaneously create a program for Indian employees to better understand and work with their U.S. counterparts. We then would have Team Integration Workshops.
Several senior Indian leaders, along with twice as many senior American leaders, attended the first offering: “Working with Indians: Strategies for Success.” This was a delicate situation with a lot riding on the program’s success. Fortunately, one of our senior associates was an experienced trainer with a Ph.D. from India. She had studied, lived, and worked in the U.S. and India for many years and had successfully delivered scores of programs on the topic.
Given the importance of the program, I, as president of my company, and as a sign of respect, would join the trainer and make some opening remarks. The program provided valuable information, cases from her own experiences, and strategies for success.
I was pleased with the outcome until the U.S. head of HR asked me to meet with her privately. Apparently, the Indian president of U.S. operations was upset that the program was being delivered by one of our senior associates instead of me. The head of HR understood that our trainer was the expert on India and I was not. However, she said, the president was adamant about this and it was not negotiable.
At this point in my story, I ask participants to reflect on:
- What has happened (the facts)?
- Why did it happen (different interpretations of the facts)?
- How do they feel about this (their judgments of the facts)?
- What would they do about this (their outcomes based on 1-3)?
By using this story, workshop participants learn from the beginning that there can be multiple and equally valid interpretations of the same situation and that our feelings, based on our values, will have to be examined to come to a common understanding if we are to work with others. We return to the story and questions after each module of the GLACI program.
WHY INTEGRATE STORIES INTO LEARNING?
- Engagement, Authenticity, and Attention: Stories capture learners’ attention and create an emotional connection. By telling my story at the beginning of my workshop, the participants become emotionally invested and they are more receptive to the remaining information presented. Additionally, by telling a story that happened to me at the beginning of the workshop, I establish my credibility, vulnerability, and authenticity as a global leadership consultant.
- Contextualization and Relevance: Stories provide a context for information, making it easier for learners to understand and relate to new concepts. Through my story, the leaders and managers in the course can see the relevance and applicability of the course content to their own global and cross-cultural experiences.
- Retention and Recall: Stories tap into the neurological pathways of memory. The details of the story paint a picture in the participants’ memories, which is much more tangible and indelible than a more formal presentation on the same topic. It allows a common point of reference that the participants and I can refer to during the workshop. The structure and richness of a story facilitates the encoding of information in the brain, making it more likely to be retained and recalled later.
- Enhanced Learning: When listening to a story, we visualize the events and characters in our minds. These mental pictures and images stimulate the imagination and activate different areas of the brain associated with sensory processing. By engaging multiple senses, storytelling helps to deepen the learning experience.
Stories capture learners’ attention and create an emotional connection.
- Emotional Connection: Stories evoke emotions, empathy, and human connections. These play a significant role in memory formation and learning. When learners emotionally connect with a story, it enhances their ability to remember the important concepts being discussed.
- Integration Within the Workshop: Throughout the workshop, after each topic or theme, I ask the participants to apply what they just learned to their notes and responses to the story. At the end of the workshop, we review how what we learned helped to explain the story and refine their ability to interpret the situation and how they would act. The participants then examine individually and in groups how this applies to their situation and their action plans.
TESTING THE IMPACT OF STORYTELLING
Without going back to the beginning of this article, see if you can recall the story and one reason you think it happened. Hopefully, you can remember the story and you are curious about the outcome. This curiosity demonstrates the power of storytelling
Please share your best practices and challenges, along with any questions you may have, about incorporating storytelling in your training, with me at: email@example.com