Appealing to emotions is the most powerful way to transfer learning in an information cluttered training or presentation. A compelling story woven with a lot of information in the telling with a conclusion that appeals to the emotion can permanently etch the learning in an otherwise unresponsive training or meeting fatigued audience.
Right from childhood the best learning we have had has taken place through grandma tales, or reading stories through books or stories narrated to us in schools and by friends. We remember them better than the thousands of lectures and classes we have attended.
So what are the elements of a powerful story and how does it work.
A story is woven around a situation
You need an interesting situation where the protagonist is up against seemingly insurmountable odds. The story should leave out mundane details of what our heroes dress or the chronology and focus solely on the situation he is confronted with, which throws his life out of balance. The focus should be on the emotional elements, the struggle and stratagem to overcome the adversity and how he wins in the end. Don’t we all like the prince to fight the dragon and carry away the princess and live happily ever afterwards.
The situation need not always be good against evil or win vs. lose. They could be funny, humorous, tragic, situational, or just a corporate incident. It only needs to be infused with the right emotion.
Establish the situation quickly
If it takes ages for you to come to the point, you have lost the audience. The situation must be established in the first minute. Remember you are not writing for a magazine or a blockbuster novel. You are narrating to a live audience already on the borderlines of boredom. If you do not kindle their interest immediately you would have pushed them over the edge with negative consequences.
Bring emotion into your own presentation
The story must be narrated with all emotion and drama. If you drone on in a flat monotone howsoever powerful the story might be the impact is lost. Bring variation with voice pitch, right pauses and modulation. The right pauses should make your audience hang on to every word with anticipation and excitement.
Telling the right story to the right audience at the right moment is the key. Don’t tell a story just for variation or a little diversion. Plan your presentation and design the story creatively to drive home the message. This perhaps is the difference between an excellent trainer and an average one. The top trainers plan their stories and weave it perfectly into the presentation. The average trainers know a lot of stories and tell one whenever he feels the audience is bored without creating the desired impact. The story becomes more of a filler than a powerful tool.
The closing is the key to create impact. If you go into lengthy explanations about the morale the impact may be lost. Leave it with a dramatic end leaving the audience to come to their own inferences. Right from a child of a few years humankind is bestowed with a brilliant and interpretative mind and they come to the right conclusions. The best way to close is with a bit of mystery or a one line explanation leaving the lessons to sink in.
Here’s an illustrative story with most of the elements described.
The Story of the Fierce Giant once upon a time in a land far away, there lived an enormous giant. He was at least ten feet tall, with a mop of red hair and a beard, and in his hand he carried a mighty axe. Every year on the same day, at the same time, the giant would walk down from the mountains which were his home, to stand outside the castle walls, terrorizing the inhabitants.
‘Come send me your bravest man, and I will fight him,’ the giant would shout, towering over the wall and waving his axe menacingly. ‘Send me someone to fight,or I will knock down your castle walls and kill everyone with my axe.’ And every year, the gate in the castle wall would open slowly and fearfully, and one poor, valiant soul would walk out to Face the foe and certain death.
‘Is this the best you can do?’ the giant would laugh mockingly. The poor wretch would stand, mesmerized by the enormity of the giant and the task in hand. Not one person had even managed to draw his sword, before the giant would crush him with his mighty fist, and chop them into tiny pieces with his axe.
But then one day, a young prince arrived in the town. ‘Why does everyone here look so frightened and sad?’ he asked a fellow traveler.
‘You haven’t seen the giant yet,’ replied the traveler.
‘What giant?’ asked the young prince, intrigued.
The traveler told him the tale.
‘Every year, on this very day, the giant arrives and challenges our bravest to a duel. And every year, he slays them exactly where they stand. They don’t even move or draw their swords. It’s as though the giant hypnotizes them.’
‘We’ll see about that.’ Said the young prince
When the giant arrived later that day, he was waiting for him.
‘Come send me your bravest man, and I will fight him,’ the giant shouted.
‘I am here,’ said the young prince, throwing open the gate and striding out towards him.
For a moment they stood and faced each other. Although he was still a long way from him, the young prince was instantly struck by the sheer size and shocking appearance of his opponent.
But summoning up all his courage, he started to walk towards the giant, brandishing his sword, and never taking his eyes off that dreadful face with the red hair and the red beard. Suddenly he realized that as he was walking, the giant-rather than appearing larger – actually began to shrink before his very eyes. He stopped and stared. The giant was only five feet tall.
He walked closer to him still then stopped and stared. Now the giant was only two feet tall. He continued walking until he was face to face with the giant, and each step he took, he saw the giant shrink. By now the giant was so small, that he looked up at the young prince. He was only 12 inches tall.
The young prince took his sword, and plunged it into the giant ‘s heart.
As the giant lay dying on the ground, the young prince bent down and whispered to him, ‘who are you?’
With his dyeing breath, the giant replied, ‘My name is Fear.’
The aim of all presentation and training is to bring about change. There is no better method of creating at least the acceptance of the idea of change than a dramatic powerful story told well.