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The power of storytelling in selling

Why you need to implement storytelling as part of your strategy.

As this week is national storytelling week, we’re exploring the benefits of applying this technique to the learning experience.


Let’s start with one of the most loved tropes of office sitcoms — gossiping around the watercooler, where colleagues exchange stories in the name of entertainment and procrastination. This is not a recent occurrence; storytelling is an ancient art that has been a hallmark of human interaction for thousands of years.


How can we leverage the power of storytelling to help audiences feel more engaged, entertained and ultimately retain meaningful information for longer?

Animated showing pages of a comic book created to replace text heavy product training brochures

Short, sticky stories

Chris Brogan described stories as “how we learn best. We absorb numbers and facts and details, but we keep them all glued into our heads with stories.” This technique of building a story exists in all sizes, the smallest of which could be mnemonics — which many of us encountered at school, to help us organize information into a specific order.

Thanks to mnemonics, decades after graduation variations of the phrase “My very eager mother just served us noodles” may still run through people’s minds when they try to recall the planets of the solar system. Individually the elements are hard to remember, but together they form a tiny story that can stick in your mind.

It is thanks to the staying power of mnemonic devices and similar acronyms that they are popular learning techniques in training and enablement. Mnemonics are most powerful when learners are faced with a large amount of content in a short time period, for example as they are onboarded into a new role. Some mnemonics may already be in casual use between other team members, so if you are considering adopting this technique, open the floor to suggestions in order to share best practises.

Narrative arc with each stage - exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution, and denouement.

The narrative arc of curriculum design

It is estimated that 65% of the conversations we have each day are based on storytelling.

With such a dominant role in our lives, it makes sense to mimic the way in which it works. A defining characteristic of almost all stories is the hero’s journey, where a character is forced to embark on an adventure, is faced with many challenges along the route, is learning continuously along the way and uses this knowledge to overcome a final hurdle. An archetype of this story is in the Pixar classic, Finding Nemo.

A royal blue tang and clownfish underwater. Shown here as a nod to the Pixar film, Finding Nemo.

The fish in the film are forced into their adventure, with Marlin, Dory and the titular Nemo all experiencing challenges emotionally, mentally and physically from which they learn. The payoff at the end of the film is that they each utilize what they have been through along the way in order to overcome a big final challenge together, using each of their lessons at once.

Decorative image featuring a person planning out curriculum design.

At Quadmark, we believe a good learning curriculum should work in just the same way. During the design process, we start with introductory modules to establish the fundamentals of a course, expectations of the learner and what they should aim to achieve. Each new module poses a new opportunity to learn and engage with the materials, with each layer building on the last. By the end, the learner should be ready to put their knowledge to the test — whether that’s answering customer questions in a support center or passing a formal exam, using each component learned separately in synchrony.

The end goal is only achieved by each stage that the learner has encountered, allowing them to draw from the entire pool of knowledge.

Image parodying a late night talk show

Recreating cliffhanger based content

The success of Netflix’s auto-play feature is that naturally, people tend to have a love-hate relationship with cliffhangers. They’re what keeps us watching until the season is done or flicking pages until the crisis is averted. This desire to answer unresolved issues is one that drives the hero’s journey forward and ensures that we stay tuned in. As instructional designers, keeping learners engaged in the narrative we are building is one of the biggest obstacles. Tactics to replicate the effect of cliffhangers include the involvement of challenges, progress insights and rewards.

Longer form, thought-based assessment questions invite learners to consider questions that are not drawn directly from content but the answer is available via indirect elements in their learning. These mini-challenges encourage the learner to think independently and critically, as well as bringing out an almost unavoidable competitive streak to answer correctly, keeping them engaged and involved in the experience.

It is hard to stay motivated when the end is not in sight. This rings true for the first 100 pages of War and Peace, as well as 20 minutes into a 2-day training session, so benchmarks and frequent progress reports on what the learner has already achieved and where they are going next is key. Frequent breakout sessions to discuss learnings or visible progress trackers allow users to keep their learning journey in perspective virtually and in person.

Animation displaying various swag items including hats, shirts, and tote bags.

 

Rewards both large and small support the feeling of achievement for learners. Scalable solutions are available for all levels, including digital achievement animations or certificates, right up to personalized recognition from peers or SWAG items.

Final thought..


Storytelling is pretty much everything, and that’s unlikely to change. So while not every e-Learning should be approached like Don Quixote, storytelling techniques should be used regularly to inspire and engage.

For more insights into developing impactful training content, browse more related content here.

Get in touch with Quadmark if you’re looking to make an impact within your sales and marketing teams using storytelling.

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