Jenn Lester

Jenn Lester is a content strategist and social media marketing expert who utilizes the power of storytelling to help organizations connect with their audiences. Prior to branching out on her own in business, she held the position of Marketing Content Developer for Pink Petro.

Written by

Jennifer Lester


June 19, 2019

The Art of Storytelling and Its Impact on Learning

Storyboard sketches used for a learning storytelling technique

While storytelling has been around nearly as long as humans have, businesses are finding new ways to leverage this age-old teaching technique. Storytelling is essential to marketing and advertising campaigns because it is so effective at capturing people’s minds and imaginations. And it can and should be leveraged internally to train employees in their respective fields. Today we’ll look at how Learning and Development (L&D) teams are using the art of storytelling and why it’s an effective mechanism.

How L&D Teams Use Storytelling to Train Employees

Storytelling cuts through the noise of information and focuses on human connection. Stories can be used to build trust, familiarity, and convey the culture and values of a company. This technique draws learners in and compels them to pay attention, and it can be done with virtually any type of training.

The formula L&D teams use is simple. They develop a story around the lesson topic that will be delivered.  Make it relatable to the given audience. Connect to the learning objective. A good story starts with a hook that draws the learners in and captures their imaginations and emotions and ends with a resolution.

This simplistic, yet powerful way of delivering a lesson is so effective that many human resources and L&D teams are now leveraging it to onboard and continue training employees across industries in training videos, interactive training and gamification of learning. An example of this approach done right comes from software giant Microsoft:  

Microsoft used Storytelling to Make Compliance Training Interesting

Compliance training is a must for most companies, especially those that handle large volumes of private data. However, it’s a challenge to deliver all the company rules and regulations to employees in an interesting way.

Microsoft set out to tackle this challenge through storytelling. Inspired by the television series, This is Us, the company’s director of compliance training, Michelle Tanner, created a tv-series-style eLearning program complete with characters and conflict. The series includes four 7 to 9-minute episodes. Employees must complete the learning through video plus they also have supplementary materials and activities to do.

The result – a majority of employees loved the training. Microsoft’s satisfaction scores for both seasons 1 and 2 were record-breaking. Tanner received feedback from both managers and employees “who say they sat around and discussed what happened."

Through storytelling, Microsoft used a creative learning process to transform what is often considered a dull topic into the company’s number one chat topic on its social media platforms.

Overcoming Onboarding Challenges with Storytelling

Measures for Justice (MFJ) is a non-profit organization that is on a mission to change the way America measures and understands its local criminal justice systems. The company does this by collecting and inputting data, including sensitive information from local sheriffs and attorney generals into its data platform.

Initially, the organization’s director of data collection, Caroline Sarnoff, performed all of the outreach herself to collect the information for MFJ’s data portal. As MFJ grew, Sarnoff could no longer do the work herself. She needed a team. As a non-profit on a tight budget, it was critical to effectively hire the right people and provide them the tools they needed to be successful from the start. 

According to a Gallup study, 88 percent of employees feel like their organizations do not onboard them well.  A report by the organization, Digitate, states that employees who have a negative onboarding experience are twice as likely to look for other employment opportunities.

Instead of being part of these statistics, MFJ decided to incorporate storytelling into their onboarding process. They brought in help to create an interactive learning narrative for their new team.  The organization’s goal was to inspire its new hires, impart its mission and values on them, and prepare its new team for the very real challenges of the job.

Through storytelling, MFJ created eight training modules. Each one was based around a story, accessible from anywhere, and lasted no more than 15 minutes. New hires then attended an in-person workshop and crafted their own narrative that they could use on the job. Trust was established between the management and the new team. Sarnoff noted that the team was able to go out on their own and effectively perform their job.

Why Storytelling Works

Stories have been a part of our lives from the beginning and as humans, we are hard-wired to relate to them. According to Paul Smith, director of Consumer & Communication Research at Proctor & Gamble, and author of the book, Lead with a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives that Captivate, Convince, and Inspire, “storytelling has aspects that work for all three types (of learners).”

It works because it forges a connection in the brain between emotions and the information that is being presented. It taps into a concept known as neural coupling. In neural coupling, the more compelling the story, the more oxytocin our brain produces. Higher levels of oxytocin enable our brains to retain information longer.

A neuroscientist at Princeton University, Uri Hasson, performed research on the impact of storytelling and shared his findings in a TED talk. What he found was that as his subjects listened to an engaging story, their brainwaves began to synchronize. Not only did the learners’ brainwaves synchronize with each other, but they also synchronized with those of the storyteller.

What does this synchronization mean? Hasson says that we are biologically wired to synchronize and connect with others through stories.

What does this mean for your organization? That one of the most impactful ways that you can deliver information and training to your employees across industries, levels, and individual learning styles, is through the use of storytelling. So don’t be intimidated, tell your business’ most inspiring stories and if you need help, don’t be afraid to tap into the marketing department or outside agencies to help.

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Jenn Lester

Jenn Lester is a content strategist and social media marketing expert who utilizes the power of storytelling to help organizations connect with their audiences. Prior to branching out on her own in business, she held the position of Marketing Content Developer for Pink Petro.

Written by

Jennifer Lester


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