Reinforce Learning Through Storytelling

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” — Benjamin Franklin

Trainers bring a full tool box to reinforce content: small group work, role plays and a myriad of experiential learning techniques. It’s really hard to monitor a role play across the range of formats for delivering training today. In any format the best trainers connect the audience to the topic by sharing great stories. This telling does not involve works of fiction, spun fairy tales or clever dialogue. It includes real life examples the participants can relate to, picture first hand and translate to action.

story tellingYour Own Reality

Concepts spring to life when a presenter describes an employee they successfully coached or a complex problem solved. My own work combination of consulting, management training and writing allows me to apply experience across the disciplines. Each effectively feeds the other. I can illustrate the effect specific recognition had on a mediocre staff member and the destructive influences of the senior manager who frequently filled emails with bawdy humor.  Confidentiality is ensured by changing names and details when necessary.

Not every topic is represented in my range of work. Employers frequently request material that is industry or job specific. These situations should not send the trainer back to a text for theory. Great stories are not hard to find.

It’s in the News

Business news, and often headlines of the day, are great sources of real world examples. Coverage of last week’s arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn have included the back story of a culture of harassment of women at the International Monetary Fund (IMF). There is enough information about the IMF to create a tidy list of dos and don’ts.

There’s no need to focus only on the negative. Business and non-profit leadership and product successes provide ample examples of CEOs doing the right thing. Find a column or regular interview that fits your philosophy and follow it for information, inspiration and material.

Government Sources

Government agencies report results of investigations, settlements and claims in easy to access formats. These are good sources for specific regulation or policy related examples. For training on preventing harassment in the workplace I can review Equal Employment Opportunity (EEOC) settlements to find situations that fit the industry. Check OSHA for safety and health and the Department of Labor for Wage and Hour. Don’t be surprised to learn about all-too-familiar violations and costly settlements.

Call a Lifeline

Colleagues and networking can be the next source for stories. My best horror story about email attachments (failure to) comes from a colleague of a colleague. Solicit examples whenever you are networking, make a phone call or seek references online. The lifeline does not have to be cast to a single person or even someone you know well. You can begin a request to online groups with something that catches attention and asks the right questions.  It’s a great excuse to post a LinkedIn question in the appropriate subject matter area. In some forums you may find the answer already in the Q&A section of the website.

The source is less important than the relevance of the content. Relevant content must also be credible. There’s nothing wrong with changing details to protect a person or organization as long as the story is introduced with the disclaimer that some facts have been changed.

Stories can be adapted for live or online presentation and used in content that is interactive. Always be on the lookout for great illustrative examples. One of the nice things about stories is that they can be repeatedly retold updates while adding new items will keep material fresh, strong and relevant.

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Rebecca Mazin is the owner of Recruit Right in Larchmont, N.Y. She does consulting, management training, and writing to create solutions for human resources issues. Co-author of The HR Answer Book: An Indispensable Guide for Managers and Human Resources Professionals, Mazin is also the author of The HR Answer Blog on and The Employee Benefits Answer Book (Pfeiffer).

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