Skillset New Zealand Blog

Ideas to help your team develop personally and professionally.

I remember him well. He was a law lecturer who became a professor and law commissioner. He knew the value of stories. 

Law can be very dry, but he would sit at a desk and tell the six of us in his class colourful stories about authors, politicians and media stars who sued publishers for defamation. (We discovered that the legal definition of malice can be entertaining, if you're not the one being defamed or sued.)

That was 50 years ago and I remember those stories today.

Stories - short stories with a clear and relevant point should be part of every presentation and workshop. Done well, storytelling doesn't just entertain or create memories. It improves learning. Stories engage audiences. They can help to explain complex ideas. They can show how something that may seem academic is useful in the real world.

A fundamental idea for trainers

Stories are just one way to use a fundamental idea in training and learning: 'depth of processing'. 

The original studies decades ago just looked at how learners remember words, but effective trainers have found many ways to help learners process more complex skills and ideas. They make learning active, including discussion, role-playing, challenging questions and puzzles, practice performances with feedback. Their stories have emotional themes.

The research, including brain scanning, backs up that active-learning approach.

Compare the focus on finding ways to help learners' brains process new skills and ideas with what you may have endured yourself. Ever had to work through a dry written text or watch a Power Point presentation full of words? Ever had to sit through a passive seminar? Has a presenter ever said, 'Don't bother taking notes. It's all in the handout'?

As trainers it's easy to do much better than that.

As learners we can create our own activities. We can ask ourselves questions and look for answers. We can link what we are learning with our own experiences. We can keep asking ourselves, 'How can I use that idea at work or home?'