How a teaching story can powerfully impart knowledge (7 types of story)

“So what are our next steps?” “How does story connect to ROI?”

Whether educating your clients, informing the public on an important issue, or sharing a valuable lesson learned to your team, teaching stories are ideal for imparting knowledge to your audience.

A Teaching Story is used to share a lesson or educate somebody on the why and how of a new skill. By wrapping information in story, you not only better connect an audience, but you help an audience to absorb that lesson or skill in a lasting way. 

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Why is a Teaching Story so effective?

Most of us can already imagine how a story would be more engaging than a lecture or mere informational slides. But Teaching Stories provide much more. They invite an audience to witness a lesson or skill being used in real-world applications, which in turn, allows them to better remember the information and apply it to their own contexts. And there’s some powerful research to back this up. 

A group of neuroscience researchers from Princeton University discovered a phenomenon called neural coupling. When a person hears a well-told story, the physical activity in the listener’s brain mirrors that of the storyteller’s brain. So whether you learn a lesson yourself, or hear someone else’s experience of coming to that conclusion, your brain reacts in the same way. 

In other words, imagine this: you could tell your crew that they’re not allowed to have cell phones out when talent is on set, and hope they follow your instructions. 

Or you could tell a Teaching Story.

You could share an experience in which you were interviewing the wife of an army veteran. You could tell your crew how she was in the middle of sharing an incredibly emotional moment, the moment in which she was told her husband had been killed in action, when she briefly glanced to the left. She saw a crew member texting on his phone and immediately had a change in her demeanor. She shut down—and just like that, the willingness to be vulnerable was lost. 

By telling the story of this experience, and what you learned, you bring your crew into that moment and why this lesson matters. Even though your crew didn’t have that experience themselves, their brains physically react in the same way. 

This is part of why using stories is so incredibly powerful.

Check out an example of a teaching story from kat. notice how she shares a valuable lesson in interviewing through her own experience conducting her first on-screen interview. 

 

How do I Tell a Teaching Story?

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Define the lesson and a specific experience where it was learned.

The first step to telling a Teaching Story is to write down the lesson, skills, or other knowledge you wish to impart to your audience.  

Boil it down to one sentence, or a list of bullet points. This is your objective, or what you hope to communicate by the end of your story. 

For example, in Kat's Teaching Story, she boiled it down to "the experience and connection with those in your film is what matters most."

This is the main objective, and therefore the knowledge she was trying to impart with the story.

Now that you know what you want to communicate, you need to identify one specific experience or situation that demonstrates this lesson in action. 

So there’s really two decisions you’re making here. First, what is one specific situation that demonstrates your lesson in action? And second, who is the person who experienced this situation? Whether that person was yourself, a colleague, or another client, they will become the main character of your story.

At this point, you know your objective, you know who’s perspective you’re going to tell the story from, and you’ve identified a specific experience in which the lesson you’re trying to impart was demonstrated. The next steps break down your story’s structure further: 

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SET UP A RELEVANT CONFLICT

The goal of the conflict in a Teaching Story is to set up what’s at stake and why this information is important. This may come in various forms.

Here are a few prompts to help you get started: 

  • Was there a problem your character needed to solve?
  • Was there a mistake your character made that resulted in a need for change?
  • Was there another challenge your character was up against which required him or her to use the skills you’ve outlined? 

Kat's example was developed from the third prompt.  She was faced with the challenge of conducting her first on-screen interview with limited experience and on short notice. While she didn't have the time to become a master at interviews, she wanted to at least be able to deliver a strong interview experience for Van, her film's character.  

THE HOW-TO

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The journey is your opportunity to actually bring in the skills or education you wish to impart. The conflict set up why these skills are needed. Now you want to share 2-3 real examples of how to actually apply them. 

You can choose to be more subtle, or more direct, when highlighting the lessons you’re teaching in the how-to. Just don’t forget to wrap each point you make in the real experiences of your character. In Kat’s Teaching Story, she shares a few practical strategies she used to set up a strong interview experience. She kept Van separated from the gear and other reminders of production—and most importantly, she focused on listening and being present in the conversation.

You may also consider if you need to bring in visuals, graphics, on-screen text, or other ways to reinforce these lessons and make it easier to absorb key information. 


THE RESULT & BIGGER TAKEAWAY

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The ending of your story should focus on the greater result of the journey. Now this might be the result of successfully using the skills, it might be the change or growth experienced by the character, or it might be the greater lesson they’ve learned as a result of this experience. 

For Kat, her interview wasn't perfect. But as a result of the experience and connection she created, Van was willing to be vulnerable in their conversation. Kat realized that, above all, it's the connection with your character that matters most.

No matter how you articulate it, focus on the result and greater lesson learned from a higher level. Review your original objective for telling this story in the first step to help give you insight. 

And finally, if you have a specific call to action, definitely include it as the closing to your story. 

Story is all about change and growth. A Teaching Story is the most powerful way you can deliver information, share new skills, and empower others' personal or professional growth. 

So the next time your client asks you for a boring 'how-to' video, or for standard corporate training, tell them about a Teaching Story, and how you can help make the knowledge they want to impart be felt and remembered in a much stronger way.

Can you see where you might be able to use a teaching story to help educate your clients and get more of the kind of work you want? If so–share your ideas below!