Telling a Training Story

Last week I had the opportunity to present at Learning Solutions on controlling your narrative. Did you miss it? Well then, let me tell you a story…

Driving down the highway last winter, I saw a message board that said there had been 190 fatalities on the Montana highways that year. I asked my husband what I am supposed to do with that information. My husband, who happens work for the department of transportation, told me that is just what that put on the board when they don’t have a message for drivers. Surely isn’t the only reason they put it there. No, he said, it is part of Vision Zero, an effort to reduce highway fatalities to zero. A noble and important effort, I agreed, but I am not sure what to do with this information. “Just drive safely!” He responded. But how?

Realizing he was frustrated with my line of questioning, I gave up and changed the subject. My mind, however, did not relent so easily. After our trip, I researched this Vision Zero business to see what I can do about this 190 number. There, I found statistics. I learned that 1/3 of these drivers were distracted, 1/2 were not wearing seatbelts, and nearly 2/3s were impaired. Proud of my findings, I told my husband all about these numbers when we had dinner that evening.

“Heather, I know these numbers all too well. I have read about all of these accidents? Remember the reports? That is hard to shake.”

He was talking about the fatality reports. In a previous role, his boss made him read each and every fatality report that occurred during his employment. Because of confidentiality, he never shared any reports with me, but when he read them, he came home shaken. I always attributed this to some absurd engineering thing I will never get like fluid dynamics.

After a beat, I asked him if he thought reading those reports made him a safer engineer. And then he boomeranged that question right back at me. “When you hear a story about someone getting hurt, does it change how you approach things in the future?” When you heard about Chad, did that change how you wanted to talk to our kids about driving safely?”

Chad…

We moved in next to Chad’s father when we were first married. At the time, Chad was an early 20’s man who had lots of friends and lots of cars – loud cars without mufflers that roared in the wee hours of the morning when Chad and his friends would get home from parties and frequently get sick on my lawn. One spring evening a few years ago, Chad and his friends decided to go to a bar about thirty minutes from our house. Chad volunteered to drive his three friends that evening. Despite being the designated driver, Chad made the decision to drink that evening. He also made the decision to drive home.

On the way home, a group of deer jumped out in front of his vehicle on a mountain pass, and he overcorrected and went off the road. The passengers in Chad’s car were all wearing seatbelts and survived. Chad was not wearing a seatbelt and is one of the 190 on that sign.

Chad’s story is obviously devastating. What is more devastating is that 189 other stories populate the variable message boards in Montana. The truth is, stories are fundamental to our humanity. Knowing that 190 people were in fatal car crashes give me very little direction. Seeing a breakdown of why those crashes occur help give context to numbers, but they resonate very little. Hearing or reading the stories of these individuals, like my husband did at work, gives us the emotional connection we need to truly engage with information.

How do we tell an engaging story?

1. Create a Structure

First, we need structure.  I think of the creation process of a story like building a set of stairs, where each stair leads to the objective. Check out this Training Story Worksheet to help you create the structure of a story. You can see an example of the story above in the Training Story Worksheet_Chad.

2. Define the Medium

Next, we need a medium. The old-fashioned way of telling stories through spoken or written word works great. I also like to use easy tools like Adobe Spark to quickly put together videos or pages. The great thing about this tool is that the storytelling worksheet about lends itself really well to the simple format. There are some limitations like a lack of closed captions and layers, if you need something fancy, I suggest you go with a tool like Go Animate or Camtasia.

Take a look at the video demo below to get a feel for using Adobe Spark.

Storytelling is important to learning, and the format you choose to tell your story is important to fit the context and objectives. Typically, we don’t have a lot of time to be verbose and we want to make sure we build a story into a lesson for our participants. Taking the time build a story using this staircase, having the medium to tell your story, and keeping in mind your objectives gives your participants what they need to learn from the narrative you have constructed.

What project can you apply this technique to? How can you build your next training story? Let’s continue the conversation in the comments below!

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