Woolie Boolie Got a Comb: using personal stories in your training classes


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A world of stories: Source: weheartit.comA world of stories: Source: weheartit.com

In the top 3 of the most effective tools in my tool kit is the personal story. My agents always responded very positively to a personal story—about almost anything. They not only enjoyed it, they clamored for more, sometimes to the point of getting downright nosy. (Especially on the topic of my dating life, which was a cabinet of curiosities to them).

How can you use your own stories (sometimes stuffily called “personal disclosure”) to greatest effect?

A few ground rules:

The story should be short, well rehearsed, and punchy.

If you are a natural story teller (few of us are), great. Otherwise, write it, prune it, rehearse it, and test it.

It should be about 30 seconds long, be devoid of any fillers or ‘go backs’

(“Wait, hang on, the thing is, she was my best friend since first grade, that’s really vital to the story. Okay, where was I?”).

It needs a punch line—something unexpected or dramatic works best.

There should be one lead- in line, a little “build up” to the punch line, and then the punch line.

“When I was living in Manila I used to work on jigsaw puzzles all the time, and I would always have one out and half complete.” (Lead- in)

“Well, I started noticing that the puzzle was more done than I remembered when I would sit down and work on it. At first I chalked it up to the fact that I was always having a glass or two of wine while working on it” (Build up)

“But then I caught on: the teenage girls that cleaned the room every day were actually working on the puzzle while I was at work!” (Punch line)

The story should show you in a slightly funny or self deprecating light. Failing that, it should highlight one of life’s “universal truths”, such as how we are all silly, puffed up, or wrong- headed on occasion.

The time you found yourself on the verge of tears when you couldn’t find an item called ‘A goodie basket’ in the department store, only to find out that your boss wanted you to buy the goodies and assemble one. (me)

The time you raised holy heck to find out who stole same goodie basket only to find out it was being stored for safe keeping in a coworker’s locker. (still me)
Things like that.

The stories should be treats, not the meat and potatoes of class.

Like many things (snow, whiskey, choral singing) a little goes a long way with personal stories. Always better to leave them wanting more than wishing you would just be done with it.

The story teller should know his or her limits, audience, and self.

Having an extensive grab bag of stories to reach into is helpful—most trainers are natural leaders and story tellers, they wouldn’t have gotten into the biz otherwise—but what’s really key is knowing your strengths.

If you can’t do imitations to save your life, don’t stake your story’s life on them. If your class is full of highly technical, highly educated, and rather sharkey tough guys, don’t tell the story about the time you looked for your glasses, only to find them on top of your own head, punctuated with nervous giggles at your own silliness.

Finally….it had better be real. Surreal is even better. But it has to be authentic—don’t “pray at” your audience in the hopes that they “see themselves” in your little morality tale. Use stories for fun, humor, and adding life to your classroom, not making a heavy handed point.

Naomi Kelsey
Naomi Kelsey has 10+ years of progressive responsibilities in the customer service industry, and 3 in the BPO training field, with an Instructional Design focus. She specializes in creating custom-tailored training programs in Language, Customer Service, and US Culture for both internal and external call center clients. Her vision is to bring "supernaturally human" customer service to all customers through innovative training methods and materials, great coaching tips, and true expert advice.


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