I’ve shown The Girl Effect video to several audiences. The reaction is always emotional. Though the goal of this video is not necessarily instruction, it is a masterpiece of storytelling. Relatable character. Strong conflict. And it is directly linked to the action it’s audience should take.
After you view the video, post your observations in the comments below. What was your response emotionally? Who is the relatable character? Why is she relatable? What is the conflict? What action is the audience supposed to take?
Watch the video again with an eye for detail. What makes this video so engaging? Take note of elements of the video that are surprising, mysterious and build curiosity. It builds credibility and breaks down an enormous problem into a small possible solution. It fits into the category of communication and marketing, but we can learn from this.
The value of storytelling for training may be difficult to quantify, but if stakeholders or management balk at story design, it’s necessary for instructional designers and other learning professionals to be able to defend the position of story design with evidence. So let’s work together to gather that evidence.
Here are two articles to get the conversation started:
Why You Need To Use Storytelling For Learning, by Connie Malamud
Why Is Story Telling So Powerful In Learning, And How Can You Learn The Skills, The Training and Development World
Post your thoughts on these articles and add links to other research you’ve done or personal experiences you’ve had that build the case for stories in learning in the comments below.
Knowing that stories are a rock solid strategy for learning is not enough. Writing terrific stories with relateable characters in conflict is not enough either. Those stories have to be transformed into tangible delivery vehicles. In other words, the story has to actually reach the learner. Video and animation often come to mind as development options. But there is another tool that is more accessible and easier to edit: audio.
Audio relies on voice-over talent, sound effects and music.There are audio editing tools available that are fairly easy to master, including Audacity, which is a free (and robust) audio editing tool. When I was asked to speak at ATD Dallas’ Technology Special Interest Group about creating audio tracks, I decided to do an experiment.
I wrote a script for a short 25 second story followed by a 35 second monologue. During the session, I cast the characters from the participants in the session, coached them, recorded them and edited the audio on the spot. I added musical underscore and exported the audio as an MP3. All in less than an hour. We had time to talk about equipment and some other tricks of the audio trade as well. I ended the session with a discussion on what we could do with that MP3. How do we get this story to learner? I got some great responses:
- Publish as a podcast
- Pair with animated characters
- Upload the audio to Captivate and play it across slides with related content
- Play the audio as is for a live or virtual audience
As an example, I created the short PowerPoint above that matched the content of the audio. Simple visuals that are synced to the audio. So if you’ve decided to make story the centerpiece of your training, or even a small part of it, consider audio and its endless possibilities.
ENGAGE: Possibly the most ubiquitous word in marketing, learning and development and training circles. Recently, I was speaking to the Girl Scouts Volunteer Empowerment team in Dallas on the topic of connecting stories to engagement. I wanted to bring more clarity to this often-used term.
After watching The Girl Effect video together, we identified the elements of the story that we felt were “engaging”–and there were many–watch the video for yourself and try doing the same (you’ll be writing for a long time). Then we compared our descriptions with thesaurus synonyms:
Suddenly, the word “engage” took on a new, more powerful meaning. It’s all about strong actions now. Grip! Capture! Arrest! So, when we say that training and communications must be engaging, remember what we’re aiming for: a call to strong action!
If you read the quotes from What People Say About Stories or you’ve done any amount of research on brain science and learning, it is evident that stories are a powerful tool for learning, but most research materials are still vague about how it works. How can stories be constructed to best connect to learning? It’s actually very simple, but often these story design elements are omitted or weak.
There are two basic elements to a story that connects strongly to learning:
Characters + Conflict. The elements are simple. And though stories can be complex and daunting to write, with these two elements, a story can be created that supports learning. But do all stories with characters and conflict connect with learning? You may have encountered something like this in a training course: “Carissa wanted to apply for a second job with a company that does business with her company. What should she do?” Carissa has a conflict (in this case, literally, a conflict of interest). Do I care about Carissa? Not really. At this point, Carissa is just a name, not a character. Is the conflict strong? Mm, probably not strong enough to make me want to know more. Let’s take the principle one level deeper:
Relatable characters & strong conflict that produces a desire in the learner for resolution.
Ah! Relatable characters! Characters I care about! That’s the first step in creating a stronger connection to learning. What if I knew that Carissa was a top-performer in her department and frequently asked for more work? What if I knew that she had some school loans to pay off and could use the extra income? And what if, as in real life, it wasn’t quite so clear cut that the duties she would perform for the second company would be in conflict with her current company? The more I know about her and the more plausible her circumstances are, the more I care about what happens to her.
Conflict. Conflict should be strong enough to make me want to know what happens next. Well-developed characters need strong conflict. Conflict produces the desire for resolution. And that is exactly where the door opens to training. I want resolution. I want to know what Carissa should do. You can teach me what she should do by connecting my desire for resolution to the learning content. This solidifies a strong connection between the story and what I’ve just learned. The stronger the conflict, the stronger the story’s connection to learning.
Perhaps, if Carissa’s story stopped right there and asked, “What should Carissa do next?” it would be enough to make me want to know more. But what if the stakes were raised? Carissa applies for and gets the second job and the story reveals that her judgement is compromised because she knows insider information. Suddenly she realizes that she’s made a grave error–one that might cost her job and reputation. With more at risk, and because I have some empathy for Carissa, my desire for resolution is stronger and the connection to story and learning will be long-lasting.