Story Telling As A Tool For Trainers

Once upon a time............."Yeah right, don't tell us a story, we are not kids".

"If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive." - Barry Lopez

Story telling is an art and like many arts it can be learnt. As adults, we think stories are for kids. Despite being the so-called matured-sophisticated adult, we ourselves get sucked into soap operas, become fans of Peter Jackson and the likes, who have basically used audio-visual media to tell stories. As a matter of fact, some of the stories we watch on the screens are purely fictional. And yes, we pay for it only to make the storyteller richer forever for a momentary entertainment.

Story telling as an excellent resource for trainers:

Story telling can be an excellent way of starting a workshop or can be used as a summary towards the end as a review. Personally as a participant in many sessions, I have found the stories used at the end of the session made a deep impact. In fact, as a participant. I still remember my colleague trainer's Customer service training some 3 years ago, where he ended his session with the story* of the man who made the difference by saving the star fish on the beach. He finished it with a punch line 'Let's make the difference'. Well I still remember it. I have also observed that many NLP master trainers use stories as useful resource to make a point.

Story when properly narrated can enhance learning and it can be narrated in many ways that suit all learning styles. Story telling need not be a mere auditory presentation; it can be narrated in many ways using various educational media like:

  • PowerPoint presentation with animation and sound
  • Story telling with some dramatization
  • Puppet show
  • Flash shows
  • Cartoons on flipcharts
  • OHP slides with visuals
  • Role-plays / skids "
  • Stories can also be chunked as Case studies (Case studies are effectively used as a teaching method in many management schools like the Harvard Business school)

Stories as Case studies:

Stories can also be used as an excellent case study to achieve learning outcomes. The following is a simple story presented as a case study to participants. This story, like many, has a moral.


One day a sculptor came to The King's court with three idols. The idols were perfectly identical in appearance but there was something different in their internal make-up.


The sculptor presented the idols to the Emperor and said, "Grand Sire, these idols look alike, but only one of them is worth looking and to be treasured. Please allow me to challenge thy wise men of the court to pick the best idol and tell me the reason for his choice."


In the King's court there was this wise Wizard. He was summoned to take on the task. One by one, the Wizard got hold of the idols and observed them very closely. He noticed that there were minute holes in the ears and mouths of the idols.


The Wizard asked for a long and thin wire.

  • He took the first idol and inserted the copper wire into its ear. The copper wire came out of the idol's mouth.
  • He picked up the second idol and inserted the copper wire into its ear. The copper wire came out of the other ear.
  • Finally, The Wizard took the third idol in his hands. He inserted the copper wire into its ear. The copper wire went right into the stomach of the idol.


Pointing to the third idol, the Wizard said to the sculptor, "This is the best of the three idols."


The sculptor said, "Please give a reason for your choice?"

The case study ends here. You can pause here and ask why the Wizard chose the third idol.


The Wizard then gave his explanation, "Let us assume that each idol signifies a minister of a king and that the copper wire symbolizes a secret of the kingdom. In the case of the first idol, the copper wire inserted into the ear came out of the mouth. Such a minister will hear a secret and divulge."

"The copper wire inserted into the ear of the second idol, came out of the other ear. Such a minister does not pay attention to any important or secret matter. Whatever he hears with one ear goes out of the other ear. He is not a good minister."

"Lastly in the case of the third idol, the copper wire inserted into the ear, went right into the stomach. This is a minister who hears a secret but never reveals it to anyone. He can keep a secret. He is the ideal minister and therefore this idol is the best of the three.

The sculptor was truly amazed and impressed with The Wizard's explanation.

Debrief moral:

  • When what is heard is internalised, real listening happens.
  • True learning happens when it is internalised.

By Ram Lingam.

This article is based on the author's many experiences as a learner and trainer.

* "While walking along a beach, a man saw someone in the distance leaning down, picking something up and throwing it in the ocean. As he came closer, he saw thousands of starfish the tide had thrown onto the beach. Unable to return to the water, the starfish were dying. He observed this man picking up the starfish, one by one, and throwing them back in the water.

Now, after watching this seemingly futile effort, the observer said, 'There are thousands of starfish on this beach. It would be impossible for you to get to all of them. There are too many of them. You can't possibly save enough to make a difference.' The young man smiled as he continued to pick up another starfish and threw it back into the ocean. 'It made a difference to that starfish,' he replied." - Author unknown.

Ram Lingam is an Auckland based corporate trainer and freelance writer who focuses on corporate training - its planning, design, delivery & assessment. He also advises on publishing and document design for small businesses. You can freely reprint his weekly articles in your website, ezine, or ebook.