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Why Narrative is The Key to Training

Why Narrative is The Key to Training

Stories. We have used them for years to express complex ideas that can be easily understood by a vast audience. You want to teach your child some complex math? You tell them a short story about two trains departing separately for the same destination. But you want to train your administration on a new client relationship management tool? You show them a 63-page slide presentation. Boring.

Why do we avoid using narrative-based learning after a certain age?

Adding narrative to your training can often seem like a challenge, or can be pushed aside to make room for more traditional, logical, 'top-down' training. Establishing how things work and using data to prove it is great, but there are many advantages to exploring narrative options to bolster learning.

Didactic explanation proves, while narrative explanation illustrates. Using a narrative often helps people learn in ways purely logical arguments cannot. Narrative instruction can instill a sense of empathy or point of view that other training methods cannot.


Unlock the Narrative in Your Association Training

Here are some tips on how to approach using narrative in your association's training.


  • Tell Personal Stories
    Generally, the person leading a training seminar is doing so due to their years of experience dealing with the subject matter. Use that to your advantage and tell personal stories that are specific to the topic being covered.
  • Have Learners Tell Their Stories
    Depending on the audience, there are often bounties of great experience scattered throughout the group that may suit your topic. Alternatively, offer unique perspectives that will actively engage discussion. This approach also gives the learner some ownership over their development. The key is to guide the learner through their story, so they do not tangent too far from the seminar's core purpose.
  • Use Personas
    Many organizations create 'day-in-the-life' scenarios of their user base or create case studies from the perspective of a particular demographic. When arranged into a narrative, the problem you are solving for your end user can snap into focus.
  • Keep it Light
    Have some fun with whatever story you develop. It is all right to embellish a bit to make the story more engaging without straying too far from the points of learning the story needs to cover. If your topic is not engaging, and your story is also not engaging, you have missed the point of using narrative to get the learning across.
  • Don't Overdevelop the Story
    Keep it simple. Even if the topic is particularly complicated, it does not mean your narrative needs to be equally complicated. Keep the concepts as simple as possible. Alternatively, use multiple short narratives and tie them together to create an overarching narrative that will exemplify the complex learning objective.
  • Make it About People
    Whatever narrative you design, make sure it is focused on the learners. If you want them to be engaged in the training topic, they need to be part of the equation. If you know the audience well, pull examples from them to help flesh out the story, and to make them feel like they are part of the total narrative.
  • Make it Emotional
    Stories resonate with people if the characters struggle with recognizable problems. If characters are experiencing frustration at work or trying to get a job done, what is the emotional cost of that frustration? Allow listeners to empathize and create links between the story and their own life.
  • Make a Plan
    Know ahead of time what your beginning, middle, and end are going to look like. If your training seminar is live, the parts in between will usually change slightly depending on your audience's engagement or lack thereof. But make sure that, no matter what on-the-fly changes you make to the story, those three key components remain grounded so as not to lose touch with the learning goals.
  • Have People Paraphrase
    To help check the learners' understanding of the story, you can have them tell the story back to you or assist in creating the overall narrative by adding key points as you direct them in one pre-determined direction. This will help audiences feel more attached to the topic and keep them fully engaged with the learning path.



The right sort of effective, on-going training is vital to a healthy career trajectory and, to many, also a sense of self-worth in one's profession. As this article details, interacting with one's peers and hearing their stories -- learning from their experience -- can be vital to this process. Have a look at the Canadian Society for Association Executives' (CSAE) CAE program to discover what sort of opportunities may open for you with further training with people who have been in your shoes.



Michael MacKay, Education, Professional Development


Education, Guest Contributor, CAE Program



10.00 ( 1 reviews)


  • This is a topic that's near to my heart... Thank you!Where are your contact details though?
    10/5/2017 3:11:48 PM Reply
    • @McVey: Michael's name in his author's profile is a clickable email link.
      10/5/2017 3:49:05 PM Reply
  • Narratives paint pictures because they add feelings, sights and sounds. They make speakers seem authentic and real. Michael, you make so many great points in this article which all presenters can use immediately. A great gift.
    5/2/2017 10:40:03 AM Reply
    • @Brenda Kelleher-Flight: Thanks Brenda. I appreciate your comments. Always good to know if I am able to provide any insight for speakers, and educators.
      5/8/2017 4:15:28 PM Reply

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