Humans are good storytellers, and humans respond well to stories. We know this from our own experience. Not only that, people remember stories for a long time, far longer than we remember a lot of teaching. Do you recall stories that someone in your family told you? Why don't we remember lessons from school as long or as vividly? Stories are powerful if we know how to use them. In this article I will introduce you to a way to use stories to achieve outcomes.

Any time you are designing a course, a learning experience, or just pitching an idea to your boss or an L&D stakeholder, it’s a story. Even if it does not seem like one, a successful production—whether it is an animated presentation, a virtual supporting example or other content—is based on some fundamental storytelling tactics. It doesn’t have to begin “Once Upon A Time,” it just needs to be constructed the right way for your purpose – To make it a memory.

The Pip Decks Storyteller Tactics product contains a carefully designed and organized set of ideas on cards that many professional multimedia creatives, executives, team leaders, and animation designers use individually and with their teams to create compelling content. Those stories work and they persist because the storytellers (consciously or not) hooked into the elements that all stories share.

Storyteller Tactics arrives in a colorful box containing 54 cards. The cards systematically help you identify instructional and story elements needed to create learning experiences that will improve employee performance. Stories make people lean in. Stories provide anchors for learning.

What’s on the cards?

Before you start looking at the cards, though, start thinking about an outcome that you need. Do you know a story (in your personal experience or one that someone told you) related to a similar objective? Who would the audience for that story be? The purpose of your story and your audience are the first questions you should answer. They will guide you to possible outcomes. Do you know why you need a story? Do you know where to find your story? What do you want people to do after they hear the story?

The Audience Profile Card in the Storytelller Tactics deck can help you. Know your audience. Time spent getting to know your audience is never wasted.

Here are a couple of examples of the cards in the deck.

Card Title: Stories That Impress

Outcome: Present your ideas with confidence. Don’t bury them under dusty layers of business jargon. Hook our attention, make your facts flow like a story, and master the art of show and tell. You’ve got an important message: say it with style.

  1. Like a movie, it needs to tell an actual story, not consist of facts and opinions strung together.
  2. There should be a simple structure to contain the beats of your story.
  3. You need to hook the attention of the audience, the viewers, the learners.
  4. Don’t let your presentation bore or confuse people.
  5. Cut to the chase.

Card Title: Stories That Explain

Outcome: Show why those abstract statements matter in the real world. How many people understand the strategic direction of their organization? How many care? Most strategy documents sit on the digital equivalent of a dusty shelf. But your strategy is actually an attempt to bring clarity to chaos, to choose your path through a changing world. That sounds like a great story, waiting to be told.

  1. Where do you stand in an ever-changing world of order and chaos?
  2. Which side do you take in the important battles?
  3. Why does this strategy matter to your colleagues?
  4. Would it help people to see your strategy in action?
  5. How do you make your story sound interesting enough to listen to?

A few more cards

Stories That Convince: Explain years of experience and hours of research to a non-expert audience. Get them to back your judgement. A recipe to explain your expertise.

The Dragon & the City: Explain your project as if it’s an epic adventure. Get people excited about your plan of action. Present your concept.

Innovation Curve: Structure your story to make your bold new idea seem less risky. Tailor the presentation and delivery depending on whether you are talking to a Pioneer, a Mainstream, or a Traditional audience. Convince the doubters.

Cards that often help shape the story

Create a focused story by referring to selected cards, beginning with this card. One possible path:

  • Know your audience (the Audience Profile Card is an important step).
  • Decide your angle: Is this a big story, a small story, an inside story, or an outside story to pitch an idea for funding or support? (The card Big, Small, Inside, Outside gives you a chart to help in the analysis.)
  • Use the Story Building System (another of the cards in the deck) to identify the right story elements for the outcome you need.
  • Combine and organize the story elements into one or more possible story arcs.
  • Pick the arc that best fits the combination of your purpose, presenter persona, and audience.

When you have a story arc that you are comfortable with, build your course, presentation, article, blog entry, or whatever else is needed to support the story arc. It is not necessary to build it into a fairy tale—just create the elements.

Story purposes

Do you know why you need a story? Do you know where to find your story? What do you want people to do after they hear the story? Read on!

Strategies for using the deck

The five bullets outlined under the subheading "Cards that often help shape the story" are not the only possible path. The combination of any number of story elements will drive the content of your story arc; therefore the number of possible paths to get to the right story is huge. However, you won’t wind up with a huge number of story arcs for consideration—probably no more than a handful. This will not throw you into “analysis paralysis.”

Steve Rawling suggests three ways to approach the Storyteller Tactics deck:

  1. Pick a card, any card: Fan the deck. Pick a card at random. Make the elements of your story fit the tactic. Pick another card and repeat. Do this three times. See which story you like the best.
  2. Try the Desert Island cards: If you could only take seven cards from the 54 in the deck, try these. Each one helps you with a different stage of the storytelling process. Each card is the “head of a family” of similar tactics —every card in the deck is linked to other cards.
    • The Dragon & the City
    • Story Listening
    • Trust Me, I’m an Expert
    • Pitch Perfect
    • Man in a Hole
    • Movie Time
    • Story Bank
  3. Try the Recipe Cards. Mix and match. Combine different story “ingredients” to solve common problems.

The Storyteller Tactics cards are not the only Pip Decks product that can serve instructional designers. For example, there is a deck for Workshop Tactics that works in a similar fashion to the Storyteller Tactics deck.

Try a Pip Deck to create a new approach to innovate better presentations and tell great stories.

This article was developed based on cards from the Storyteller Tactics deck.