June 2021
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TD Magazine

Training Others With Storytelling

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Katja Zurcher

Global Talent Development Trainer

Rackspace Technology


San Antonio, Texas


Master's degree, fiction (Columbia University); bachelor's degree, English (Rhodes College).

Favorite Quote
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be?" —Marianne Williamson

Katja Zurcher developed exceptional storytelling skills through her childhood love of literature. She later sharpened those skills by earning a graduate degree in fiction. A career twist led her to the talent development space where she discovered how storytelling and learning complement each other. As Rackspace Technology's global talent development trainer, Zurcher enjoys putting her storytelling skills to use by developing, designing, and delivering creative training solutions to employees worldwide.

How has your academic training prepared you for your role, and what advice do you have for students today?

My training and development career started when I was working on my master's degree in fiction. That's when I really learned how to tell a great story. Stories create emotional connections in people and ultimately can help people learn. My advice to students is to discover how to connect with people and how to connect ideas. Whether creating a class, speaking at a conference, or presenting a proposal to stakeholders, you have to be able to tell an intriguing story.

What aspect of talent development work do you enjoy the most and why?

The instructional design aspect of my role energizes me the most. When I create a class or develop a learning program, it's like I'm crafting a story for my learners. I focus on finding the value pieces that will resonate with learners the most, and then I fit them together in a compelling narrative. I also completed the coursework required to earn the Association for Talent Development's Instructional Design Certificate, and that helped provide more structure to my natural skill set.


What do you see as some of the most exciting trends or tools for talent development professionals to cultivate learning in the tech industry?

With the increased globalization of companies and the rise of remote working, the most impactful tools are those focused on virtual collaboration. We're inundated with new tools and possibilities, and the learning function needs to ensure that business need is driving technology options as opposed to an attempt to have and use the latest and greatest thing. Additionally, the more talent development can continue to enable on-demand learning through self-service models, the more agile learners and businesses can be.

What project that you have been part of are you most proud of and why?

Last year, I transformed Rackspace Technology's in-person, global onboarding into a virtual experience. Our virtual program now receives higher learner engagement scores than our in-person program, and 95 percent of employees say they have a higher opinion of the company after attending the program. During this project, I was challenged to stretch the limit of my program design skills.

About the Author

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.

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