How does Digital Storytelling Enhance Workplace Learning? - The Vibons Blog

How does Digital Storytelling Enhance Workplace Learning?

By Jessica Schmidt and Brian Will   |    4 min read

How does Digital Storytelling Enhance Workplace Learning?

By Jessica Schmidt and Brian Will
 4 min read

How stories compel us to care

A James Bond movie played out in the theater while researcher Paul Zak sat out of the way, monitoring the brain activity of twelve moviegoers. He noted when heart rates slowed and sped up – an encounter with a villain caused a significant increase. Zak’s Claremont Graduate University lab has been studying how good narratives influence behavior in business settings. He points out in an article for the Harvard Business Review that if a story sustains viewers’ attention with tensions, character development, and smart plot points, then viewers or listeners “will come to share the emotions of the characters in it, and after it ends, likely to continue mimicking the feelings and behaviors of those characters.”

A 2010 Princeton study found that, when stories are told well, listeners or viewers often feel as though they’re part of the story, and their brain activity synchronizes with that of the storyteller… In their book The Dragonfly Effect, Stanford marketing professor Jennifer Aaker and strategist Andy Smith give the example of Scott Harrison, a young entrepreneur on the New York night scene who decided to leave his elite bar business behind to found a charity. He used digital videos – with himself as the sympathetic protagonist who wanted to do good – to teach others about his charity’s founding, mission and values. Because viewers could empathize with him, his digital media campaign flourished, and colleagues donated to his cause. A good story affects behavior. This makes stories an ideal way to convey and transfer information, not just in movie theaters or spoken word scenarios, but incorporate digital learning environments as well.

Storytelling in enterprise learning environments

Enterprise learning, or education in corporate settings, thrives when digital storytelling is employed. In Vibons’ animated video on success in sales*, we see a sympathetic cartoon baseball player sitting in the dugout, heart pumping, as he recounts being fired from his former job for lack of diligence. He joins a new team, and this time puts his all into it. We see him pitching fastballs, sprinting from one base to another. The baseball metaphor transitions into a salesman success story as the ball player, post-injury, takes a job as an insurance salesman. Again, he fails; again, he learns to tap into his eagerness and passion for the job.

The video follows Freytag’s Pyramid, a 19th-century formula for compelling dramas: the action rises as the ballplayer fails, tries again, switches professions and then fails and succeeds in sales. It moves toward resolution as the salesman settles into a smooth pattern of enthusiastic success.

Click to See The Full Graphic

“After producing more than thousand animated videos and receiving feedback from clients,” says Vibons Chief Creative Officer K. Korzay, “I can say that the most important aspect of an explainer video is to build a story around it in order to form an emotional and personal connection between the viewer and the main topic.”

Other experts agree. New York Times bestselling author Joseph Grenny argues that “Leaders can maintain a lively sense of connection … [with employees] through storytelling.” He talks about how a manager can change an employees’ behavior through a pointed object lesson. But effective storytelling in enterprise learning environments isn’t the same as merely sharing anecdotes around a kitchen table.

What are the rules of thumb for good storytelling and why does it matter? Here’s how to tap into the best digital storytelling techniques.CLICK TO TWEET

Good storytelling rules of thumb

When you’re implementing digital storytelling in your own business environment, keep the following in mind:

1. Be brief and focused. Ask yourself “what do we want to convey?” Then make sure to stick to that goal as you’re scriptwriting for your digital narrative.

2. Use microlearning strategies. Rather than try to explain everything about how to succeed in sales in one animated video, highlight one area at once. Consider for example the fact that Vibons took in the ball player animation, simply emphasizing eagerness as an effective attitude.

3. Develop and rely on strong characters to drive the story. Paul Zak’s lab found that “character-driven stories do consistently cause oxytocin synthesis.” Oxytocin is the neural chemical that enhances our sense of empathy and encourages cooperation; we release it when we feel attached to others.

4. Zoom in on a tension or challenge that needs to be overcome. “A story without a challenge simply isn’t very interesting,” writes Carolyn O’Hara in the Harvard Business Review.

5. Describe rather than tell. “Think of telling a story as making a movie inside your audience’s head,” says storytelling coach Marsha Shandur.

6. Use visuals, movement and sound -- animation and graphics work well to illustrate your ideas, giving the story a visual appeal, and engaging more than just a viewers’ rational mind. “We’re of a visual era,” writes Lauren M. Raibaino of AdWeek. “We like seeing content in a way that engages us, a way that attracts our full attention.”

You can check this video as an example to see how a Vibons video covers these rules of thumb and offers an example of good storytelling and microlearning.

* This video is freely adapted from Frank Bettger's classic book, How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling.

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