Connection Point October Stories
ATD Blog

Stories Prepare You to Act

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The session “Story Design: A Foundationally Human Approach to Instruction” began with video clips of two distinctly different mock training sessions. In one, the facilitator Cindy read presentation slides of learning objectives, which were filled with lots of text, and she asked for questions only to quickly move on. In the second, Cindy polled learners ahead of the course to learn about their experiences. She then made the session interactive by supplying learners with a worksheet, and she followed the chat to chime in on learner responses. With these video clips, Rance Greene clearly made his point about humanizing training courses.

Regarding the first training scenario, Greene—author of Instructional Story Design: Develop Stories That Train—pointed out that Cindy didn’t interact with her learners as if they’re human. Yes, she asked whether they had questions, but she didn’t elicit any responses from her uninterested learners. Greene offered an alternate option to that scenario—one in which he showed positive ways to engage learners.

He described his story design model that pushes talent development professionals to think about learners as people from the beginning during the analyze phase and then continuously through implementation. Greene continued, “I like to think of story design in terms of instructional design.” And instructional design fills a basic human need, to improve knowledge, skills, and attitudes.

Greene compared training with the theater, his previous professional experience: real humans, doing real actions, in front of a live workforce. Unfortunately, corporations are all too often emotion-averse, and that has made its way into our training, he opined.

“Stories get us ready to act,” Greene emphasized. During his session, he outlined the first steps of the ADDIE model and how they relate to incorporating story design into a training program.

For TD practitioners, one of the first people they’ll interact with is the stakeholder. During that dialogue, they need to determine the root cause of the deficiency in performance, the business outcome, and whether a training program is the answer. If training is the right answer, the TD professionals must connect with a subject matter expert to determine the answers to two questions during the analyze phase: Who is the audience? What do we want them to do?


They then need to ask additional questions: What do learners value? What motivates them? What do they fear? How will training benefit them? Each audience is unique, so to create the best training, Greene urged TD professionals to create an audience profile by answering those questions.

Further, when designing training, it’s important to drill down to observable actions. It’s not sufficient to say, “do the right thing,” “be customer first,” or “be compliant.” Rather than saying “be customer first,” for example, TD professionals should think about specific actions. What could those actions be? Greene pointed out that the action could entail floor reps smiling at customers, asking whether they can help the customers, walking with the customers to the product they’re looking for, and thanking them for coming into the store.

Once TD practitioners know their audience and what participants should do in the training program, they can design a training program that will speak the learners’ language. At this phase, Greene recommended trainers fill the gap between story and action. Along with things such as suspense, hero, plot, problem, and character, stories need relatable characters and strong conflict.


TD practitioners can use their audience profile to develop relatable characters. And they can use their action list of behaviors to design a strong conflict. By putting relatable characters together with a strong conflict, TD practitioners will create within their audience a desire for resolution. And that is filled with your message toward action. Greene explained more about characters and conflict in his blog, “L&D Pros Are the Best Storytellers.”

Greene is facilitating the interactive postconference workshop “Build the Story: An Exercise in Training Humans” on Friday that will continue the learning around building characters and conflict. The workshop is currently full, but a waitlist is open.

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About the Author

Connection Point is the daily news source written by ATD staff for the ATD Virtual Conference, relaying news, session coverage, and other updates.

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