Use Storytelling in Your Customer Training to Drive Engagement

Nikki Engel ·

Jun 01, 2021

Remember those simpler times when you could gaze out a window during a boring class? There’s a reason it’s ubiquitous: It’s something most people experience. Our minds go somewhere else when we’re supposed to be focused on learning.

Daydreaming is something we do because humans crave stories. In fact, studies show that humans spend one third of our lives daydreaming — this is about 2,000 stories in a day.

This changes, however, when we have a story presented to us. Then our brain makes up zero stories, we “lean in” and pay attention to the narrative we're being told.

Now think of your learners in the courses you’ve developed for customer acquisition and retention. Are you presenting them with compelling narratives? 

If not, you should consider it. That’s because adding stories to your learning programs commands attention and helps people remember their training. Therefore, they get more out of the product and become stickier customers.

In fact, it may even be necessary. 

As Daniel Pink argues in A Whole New Mind, “The future belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind: artists, inventors, storytellers -- creative and holistic ‘right-brain’ thinkers whose abilities mark the fault line between who gets ahead and who doesn't.”

In other words, information transfer may not be enough for a successful online course. As information becomes a commodity, looking at learning through a narrative lens may be what sets your courses apart.

Storytelling and Learning Go Hand-in-hand

Stories have always been a tool to teach skills, and to demonstrate good and bad behavior to listeners of all ages. 

Stories are also easier to remember than facts. 

For example, when we process factual information, two areas of the brain are activated. A well-told story can activate up to seven parts of the brain. Using a word like “perfume” causes the olfactory cortex to kick in, while using a word like “punch” engages the motor cortex.

Using Storytelling in Your Courses

While that’s good and well, let’s get down to how you can put this newfound knowledge to use. 

Here are some pointers for implementing narratives to improve your courses’ engagement.

    1. Choose your story well: You might be teaching using a fictional example that can be applied to a lesson, or you might elect to use a true story that applies to the lesson being taught. No matter what you choose, every part of the story must relate to the point you’re trying to make. You don’t want a terrific story that distracts learners from the point you’re trying to make. So, don’t go off-piste.
    2. Plan your story: Generally, you’ll want to keep stories short but depending on how complex your story is, you may want to try outlining it. This way you can keep track of how it will weave into your lesson as well as other course assets. Even if you’re not animating or filming the story, you might want to try a common tool that many filmmakers use: Why, What and How.
    3. Engage the senses: When you’re telling a story in your lesson, focus on the details. What did the air smell like? What would a camera have seen? What sounds could be heard? The more senses you engage, the more you engage your listeners. The more you engage your listeners, the more they will remember the lesson.
    4. Create a judgment-free zone: When using a story in your training, make it clear that you’re teaching what happened, not how you or your learners feel about it. Thoughts and judgments can be obstacles to learning.

Listen to Your Learners

Good storytelling is a two-way street. An actor, a standup comic or someone who is the life of the party at the punch bowl all understand it’s important to “read the crowd.” In other words, gather feedback on how their message is being received so they can course correct as needed.

With an online course, you must make a conscious effort to get feedback. That means building in opportunities to respond, demonstrate interest and for learners to contribute their own thoughts.

By viewing your courses through a narrative lens and seeing the experience from your learner’s perspective, you’ll likely get much more engagement. Remember, the future of your customer retention may depend on it.

That said, are you ready to kickstart your customer education program? If so, check out our corresponding eBook to get started.


Download the eBook

About the Author

Nikki Engel

Nikki Engel leads Northpass’ product marketing and sales enablement efforts. She’s passionate about helping customers see the true value of every Northpass feature. When Nikki isn’t spearheading product launches, she can be found chasing after her two adorable kids (seriously, ask her to show you some pictures) or renovating her new fixer-upper; watch out HGTV, here she comes.

Read more from Nikki Engel

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