Storytelling, as part of a teaching tool, has existed since times immemorial. Children learn their first lessons from their parents or grandparents through stories of truth, valor, and morals. It remains ingrained in the child’s mind because there was that most essential element in it – entertainment.
It is now being used extensively in training, coaching, and teaching complex concepts in a very lucid manner. It helps understand an idea or concept with clarity. Seasoned teachers keep a stock of stories readily available, which can be used to clarify a particularly difficult or complex concept.
Storytelling is an art. It is all about keeping one’s audience engaged. The flow with which the story is told, its ebbs and highlights, and its perceived impact on the audience’s mind, all go on to make a great storytelling experience. Stories can be used to fill the gap between a lecture and discussion. It helps in illustrating how something works. The audience should be kept engaged as it amplifies the learning experience.
Technology and technological support have become the centerpiece of training, after the shift to the virtual training environment. The delivery style and content of the training have also faced challenges as they relied more on eye contact, and the behavior of the learners – both verbal and non-verbal – to gauge the impact of the story on their audience. However, the virtual training environment has not completely deprived the storytelling of its charms and impact, as now instead of direct eye contact with the audience, the storyteller looks into the web-camera to establish eye contact with his audience who too would be looking into their monitors.
All these years, we were using virtual learning and virtual conferences only to a small extent, to augment our regular conferences that too only if the participants are spread across continents and are unable to physically present themselves at a common location, to save time and money. The pandemic and its consequent lockdown have made us make that paradigm shift to webinars which has not become the center stage of any meeting, discussion, or storytelling. Webcam, chatrooms, and PowerPoint presentations have become the mainstream technology tools for engaging in virtual storytelling and meetings. The time crunch and short attention span have been big impediments for a storyteller.
Against all these odds of technological challenges faced by a storyteller, a good story, well told, can overcome all these challenges of the virtual environment, and engage with his target audience and grab their attention. Just like a teacher prepares a lesson plan and then executes it well, here too the storyteller has to create a foolproof plan to achieve the outcome as he envisions.
It goes without saying that a good story can elevate the learners’ interest, especially if they can relate to something that they understand. Due to the time crunch during webinars, it is important to think through two stories that can connect the ideas together. If it is about an experience the trainer has gone through, it can be told in such a manner that the audience will see it through the trainer’s eyes, and his enthusiasm can be contagious and the objective can be achieved in a short time span.
One important thing that the trainers lose out on in virtual training is the ability to scan the room because he can see only what the participants prefer to show on their monitor and that is what he can focus on. At least two good stories somewhere in the beginning and one towards the end will give the audience those two essential breaks from the seriousness of the training subject, and to reflect on the lessons of the story.
The Story Essence: While telling a story in the traditional environment, the stories could be told with some points of digression and the learners tolerated them as filling of time was an acceptable part of any session. But in a virtual environment, time is generally a fixed element and hence such digressions cannot be tolerated. Hence story anchors are very important to avoid digressions. A good arsenal of stories is still important, but they should be very good stories that can quickly connect the content and should make the audience feel that a long webinar went through in a shorter duration. In short, the stories should not exceed 90 seconds, but should still catch the attention of the audience.
Conclusion: With the shift into the virtual training environment, the importance of storytelling has not been lost in the least. Only that the storytelling has faced certain challenges, which can be easily overcome by good storytelling which can connect the content. The time crunch during a webinar has to be kept in mind, so good stories not lasting more than 90 minutes, which can keep the audience’s attention riveted, should be the ideal way to tell stories in this new atmosphere. However, the art of storytelling in a virtual environment also requires as much creative thought, planning, and execution, as in storytelling in the traditional environment. So the skills have to be refined now to cater to this new