Storytellers Become The Story: Obama and Hilary

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Results of a neuroscience study explain how storytelling builds empathy among people who collectively listen to it. If plain storytelling could already create impact, imagine what interactive narratives using state-of-the-art technologies could further achieve. eLearning developers must support storylines with the apt learning environment and communication tools. __________________________________________________________________________

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In 2008, the US Democratic Convention faced the dilemma of choosing between two great candidates who each have equally compelling storylines. Back then, Barack Obama was at the threshold of becoming the first Afro-American US President. On the other hand,  Hilary Clinton was vying to become the first woman president of America.  

Americans assess their leaders by knowing their storylines. They evaluate country analytics not just by statistics but by the everyday stories which unfold before them.   You can win America by telling a good story.

After being elected as the US president, Obama took their story one notch higher: he appointed Hilary Clinton as the Secretary of State. They have become the Hansel and Gretel of American politics, determined to battle the evil witches who threaten beloved America.

In Why Sharing Stories Brings People Together, Joshua Gowin, Ph.D., shares his insight on a neuroscience experiment: 

“When you tell a story to a friend, you can transfer experiences directly to their brain. They feel what you feel. They empathize. What’s more, when communicating most effectively, you can get a group of people’s brains to synchronize their activity. As you relate someone’s desires through a story, they become the desires of the audience. When trouble develops, they gasp in unison, and when desires are fulfilled they smile together.

For as long as you’ve got your audience’s attention, they are in your mind.  When you hear a good story, you develop empathy with the teller because you experience the events for yourself. This makes sense. Stories should be powerful. They helped us share information long ago, before we had a written language and Wikipedia.”

Indeed, storytelling can build empathy and connectivity among participants. How can eLearning developers and trainers maximize this?

Here are a few points:

1.) Since storytelling creates an environment for shared experiences, the facilitator can use the environment for shared learning, too. Insights, feedbacks and comments from eLearners broaden the learning process. The session becomes an opportunity for “surrogate learning”.

2.)  Update your eLearning tools – software, hardware, templates, programs. Effective  communication tools could further enhance the shared learning experience of eLearners.

3.) Assess the strengths and weaknesses of your interactive modules based on the    measurable and intangible impacts of your eLessons.

Barack Obama – and other US presidents – won the presidency because they metamorphosed from being storytellers to being the story themselves. 

eLearning developers, be challenged and inspired  do the same.

Related blog
How to instantly grab e-learners attention!

Works Cited
Gowin, J., PhD.. Sharing  Sharing Stories Brings People Together published in June 6, 2011.

Ray Jimenez, PhD

Vignettes Learning
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”

One thought on “Storytellers Become The Story: Obama and Hilary

  1. When there's a strong possibility that learners will resist whatever is being proposed/taught, we can set up the scenario so participants identify with someone who is resisting… then demonstrate consequences of the resistance in story form, without preaching.

    For example, bankers may not want to see themselves as salespeople but the bank wants them to learn cross-selling techniques. Depending on your media, participants can read/hear/see:
    – a banker angrily reacting to someone trying to tell them to up-sell more financial products. The banker can give good reasons for the resistance that reflect expected participant resistance in order to strengthen participants' identification, e.g. 'I meet my customers' needs I don't peddle products or force them to buy what they don't need just to meet revenue goals.'
    – Then, as part of the plot, show a consequence of not using the skills being taught, e.g. have the banker miss a real customer need because he/she didn't ask cross-selling questions to uncover possible needs vs. customer requests. Maybe the hyper-sales person starts to get the customer's business away from the initial banker.
    – And the resolution of the story can show the banker going back to the customer, asking the right cross-selling questions, but doing it in a service-oriented way so participants also "win" by seeing that they are right to resist hard sell, but also need to ask questions to reveal unspoken needs.

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