Persuasion is the centerpiece of business, training, teaching and event activities. We want to convince customers to buy our company’s products or services, employees and colleagues to go along with a new strategic plan or reorganization, investors to buy (or not to sell) our stock, and engage our learners in our training. But, too often we get lost in boring presentations with too many PowerPoint slides, dry memos, and hyperbolic missives from the corporate communications department (Fryer 2003).
This blog article summarises the main points from a LinkedIn Live with Charles-Louis de Maere (Explorer at Exploration Labs SRL) and Barbara Covarrubias Venegas (Founder #virtualspacehero).
Charles-Louis de Maere
Explorer at Exploration Labs SRL
Table of contents
What is a story or a fairytale? What essential elements do we need to consider? What makes a good story?
A story is the telling of a true or fictional event, in a way that the listener experiences or learns something just by the fact of hearing the story. A story gives information, experience, attitude or a point of view. And like all stories, fairy tales are meant to entertain. Some of them have a good or an evil character, others use dragons or monsters, but not all the stories follow these patterns. Their main purpose is to give morals in a way the audience will remember.
“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” Neil Gaiman
🚀 Think about the context
When picking stories for a workshop, first consider who you are talking to, and what you want to address with them. Once you have this clear, it is important to choose a story that is related to that topic and that people can associate with.
🚀 It is not necessary to reinvent the wheel
Using existing stories is much easier than creating a new one. There are people that have been writing stories for decades and there’s loads of wisdom to be learned in their stories. When choosing the story, make sure it is short enough so you can handle it and the story is clear enough for your participants to work on it.
🚀 Consider Cultural Exchange
In our workshops we might find people joining from different parts of the world, and when picking stories or fairy tales there is a cultural element that we also have to be aware of. Stories have to be carefully selected, some of them could convey stereotypes and misconceptions, and depending on your cultural background stories could even have a different meaning. However, if we take a step back and take a deeper intention, there’s a shared understanding that can be very interesting when applied in our training. Interact with your audience around the same story and ask them to go through what the story meant for them. Sharing deep thoughts and then analysing how that relates to someone coming from a completely different culture, can be an impactful experience for your workshop!
“It’s an interesting step into inclusion if we start sharing a story, to see how the story resonates with your participants from different cultural backgrounds, to see what they make out of it”. Charles-Louis de Maere
Beyond Cinderella and Arielle, what fairytales can we use in our training?
If we tell you about The Three Little Pigs or Little Red Riding Hood, you probably have already heard of them, and we can trigger some themes behind these stories. It is easier to talk about topics you want to address through stories (e.g. communication, hierarchy, conflicts…) rather than talking about these different themes directly. You can either make your participants extract a learning concept from your story, or propose one. Here are a few suggestions about stories and themes you could use in your virtual training:
📘“The Emperor’s New Clothes” – Hans Christian Andersen
Themes that can be discussed:
– Why is it hard for people to tell the truth, and why are we afraid of doing so? What role does hierarchy play?
– Why do people lie to make a good impression on others? Why do people tend to repeat rumours even if these are not true?
– What type of mask do you carry, if you know things aren’t true but you don’t dare to say it?
📘 “The Three languages” – The Brothers Grimm
This story could be used to talk about:
– What is useful learning?
– How do we measure the impact of learning?
📘 “The Snail and the Rosebush” – Hans Christian Andersen
Could be great to debate about:
– How do people deal with their own situations?
– Are we aware of the impact we can make with our actions?
– Do we give the best of us? What have you done for your inner development?
How can we learn to tell stories and use fairytales?
When working in the virtual space sometimes we are stuck in keeping our learners engaged, and using stories for this particular learning setting is a great way for having our audience involved with the topic we want to discuss. Charles-Louis de Maere has been using stories for loads of virtual workshops with a tremendous engagement from people all over the world. He believes that stories connect one another because we get through stories to emotions, and we cannot agree more!
👉 Run it in a space that you trust
If it is the first time you include a story in your training you might say “I am not ready for this”, but you can start with a small group to see how you feel with storytelling and how your learners interact with your stories. There’s no need to go with a big group at first!
👉 Take a story you know, an existing one, and a short one.
Pick a story that you can relate to and “easily” match with the topic you want to deal with during the workshop. The most important thing when using storytelling is to use something that people can relate to. For example, you have noticed that the people you are working with do not always tell the truth, and you want to discuss that usually the reason is because they are scared. Therefore, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” story might be a good fit to present this subject.
👉 Plan how to work around with the story
Once you have the story chosen, you can then either ask them to read it ahead of the workshop (if the story is long), read it yourself to the group or you can organise a reading session, e.g. in breakout rooms. This depends on how long the story is and what your objectives are.
👉 Prepare questions and exercises
We want the group to be engaged and participative during the session, and having questions and exercises prepared in advance will help you to interact with them and relate better to the story.
👉 Ask the right questions. Sometimes as trainers and facilitators, we ask too complex questions. Ask questions where your participants need to take a different perspective than their own. If you are using “The Emperor’s New Clothes” for example, some questions you could ask are: “Which character do you feel the closest to?”, “Do you feel you are like the Emperor? Do you consider that you are more like the child of the story, that is always calling out the truth? Or do you relate more to the Minister, who got into a situation where he could not escape?”.
👉 Make your participants work together. Another good exercise where the learners can connect with each other is to ask them to find the moment of the story where they see the tipping point. You can then propose to them to work out another ending, or a different way of handling that situation.
If you have an online workshop, consider moving attendees into small groups in breakout rooms, or working on a reflection activity by themselves to then pick it up in a debriefing session to relate it to the context. Learn How can we create interaction with breakout rooms in our virtual live sessions? in this #virtualspacehero blog post.
Why is persuasion so difficult, and what can you do to set people on fire?
Persuasion is about making your argument successful in a confident and knowledgeable way, and this could be difficult when the person you are trying to persuade does not agree with the logic you are using to convince them. If you need to make an argument about a topic about which you feel very passionate about, don’t use rhetoric. Tell a story instead. Sometimes people are using stories only because it is en vogue. However if the story does not share elements with the context and is not related to the topic to be addressed, then there´s no point in using a story. We want our participants to remember both the story and the context! Here are a few suggestions:
💡 Read more fairy tales
You usually read fairy tales for your enjoyment but you can also reflect on them. After reading these stories, people usually empathize with them and continue thinking about it for a longer while, which could be a great exercise for you to also discover the topics you want to address in your training.
“Those that are in the learning and development space and are reading for children, for another adult, or are reading simply for their own joy, we see these stories from a totally different angle. There is another light on the fairytales we read.” Barbara Covarrubias Venegas.
💡 Stories can be inclusive and engaging
The simplicity goes back to the stories. Stories allow us to talk about complex matters, using a simple structure that everyone understands. Once we start using complex words, we all have different understandings of it, but if we put it in a narrative it can create a common understanding.
💡 Use your creativity
When we switched to the virtual space, many left behind all the things we were using in a normal training in presence context. Use the whole virtual space that you have: Think about playing with the visuals including objects, pictures, drawings and even sound effects on our virtual training sessions. Read here more about How to use objects/props in your virtual training?
💡 Let the others discover it on their own
If you tell a story and then tell your audience immediately what the learning points are, what’s the point of it? Invite others to put their thoughts and their perspectives and then you can work from there to have a very powerful session.
“The one who does the talking, does the learning” Jen York-Barr
💡 Be open and learn from your sessions
As facilitators and learning designers, it is an advantage to be curious and have the courage of not knowing what is going to happen in your workshops. It is a good opportunity to learn from the discussions, as they can go in a completely different direction than you might have thought.
💡 Understand that it can go wrong
Even if you selected a story carefully, it could still not work out, and it is all right as long as we have that conversation and we use that opportunity to discuss it. Stories have been written in a certain different historical context that is not the one we have today, there were some other truths. If you see something is not working, you can always try something else!
WE ARE CURIOUS! What was your favourite fairy tale
Share with us what was your favorite story when you were child or now as an adult! We would love to hear which stories you are thinking of including in your next workshop or training.
Bronwyn Fryer (2003): Storytelling That Moves People, HBR Magazine
Covarrubias Venegas, Barbara (2020): How to use objects/props in your virtual training?
Covarrubias Venegas, Barbara/Keischnigg, Katja (2021): How can we create interaction with breakout rooms in our virtual live sessions?