The Power of Stories

Gilgamesh

This blog was inspired by a short session I ran in the Experiential Learning Zone at the World of Learning in September 2015, with the team at Pearlcatchers.

Stories have been around a very long time. The oldest one recorded was written in 1200 BC and is called the “Epic of Gilgamesh”. It is based on real characters and was about a man who lost his best friend and so went on a long journey to search for the secret of immortality. The story is perhaps not a true reflection of reality but more like a Hollywood blockbuster, that has been digitally enhanced for effect. But nevertheless it illustrates the power of stories.

Stories are “narratives with plots and characters, generating emotion in narrator and audience, through a poetic elaboration of symbolic material. This material may be a product of fantasy or experience, including an experience of earlier narratives. Story plots entail conflicts, predicaments, trials and crises which call for choices, decisions, actions and interactions, whose actual outcomes are often at odds with the characters’ intentions and purposes” (Gabriel, 2000, p. 239).

So stories are part of our history, our cultures and we know how they work. But how many of you use stories in your training? Or those of you who do, to good effect?

Stories, in training can have many uses, so here are some of my thoughts on their use:

  • Introducing a topic
  • Making a point
  • Making a boring topic come alive and highlighting its importance
  • Closing off a topic
  • Changing minds and ways of thinking
  • Staring a discussion
  • Sharing successes in an organisational or in a personal motivational way
  • Developing empathy for others
  • Metaphor for something difficult to cope with
  • Helping people to identify with certain situations and relate to their own
  • Envisioning the future for change programmes
  • Simplifying complex issues

It is often useful to tell your own stories and I use Larry Reynolds 6 part start structure when I have to create one. It gives me a format and stops me from rambling on too long! Here is Larry’s story structure:

  1. Think of a time when you faced some kind of challenge. (happy ending!)
  2. How did you feel when you encountered this challenge?
  3. What unexpected help came your way?
  4. How did things work out in the end?
  5. What did you learn from this experience?
  6. What does that say about your values and beliefs as a person now?

So here is my example of a story using Larry’s useful structure:

  1. This year in May, for the first time I had my own stand at the CIPD exhibition, to launch to the wider world, the Learning Loop. The challenge was for me – how do I design my stand? In line with what is expected or in line with how I work?
  2. It was a pretty daunting prospect, actually terrifying. My style as is playful, creative but professional and my biggest fear was that it would just look childish and at worst unprofessional
  3. My biggest help has always been from getting great feedback from clients and my associates who work with me and of course my husband Gareth who is always encouraging of my ideas. It gave me the courage to stand by my convictions and do it my way.
  4. On the morning of the first day of the exhibition I was so nervous, I felt sick and had to force breakfast down. I had seen everyone else’s stands the night before and thought “This is either going to be a huge mistake or they will love it”. Mine just did not fit in with what was there. From the moment the doors opened we were inundated with visitors. People were curious and came to speak with us. Even people from other stands were curious, why we had so many visitors. Feedback was fantastic and follow is still on-going. Orders are coming in
  5. What I learned from this experience is that sometimes when you believe in something, really deeply you can get frightened just because your idea is so different and new. The fact that it is different and new attracts people. So if people you respect and believe, encourage you to “go for it”, then do, with the confidence that they have your back
  6. What this experience has done for me is to help me have more courage in my ideas as well as confidence in the opinions of those I respect and trust. I say if you have a great idea “Go for it!”

So what is your story? I would love to hear it!

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