In 2012, director and YouTube phenomenon Casey Neistat took the ad budget Nike gave him and instead of spending it on shooting a commercial for the Fuelband as expected, he burned through it in 10 days on a trip around the world--ostensibly to #makeitcount.

It's a story with the potential to go horribly wrong; apparently, there were some very anxious moments when Nike first learned of Casey's 'creative pivot'. But it's a story with a happy ending: to date, the #makeitcount video has over 15 million views and nearly 25 thousand shares on YouTube.

Why is this a compelling story and why, as a corporate trainer, should you care? The #makeitcount origin narrative has all the bones of great storytelling. And it's great stories that humans listen to, remember and are persuaded by. Unsurprisingly, these are the same characteristics of breakthrough training content.

Casey didn't luck out with this viral success. There's a method to his madness and a science behind why storytelling works as a powerful communications tool:

Our brains "on stories" are more engaged: The same information related via bullets vs. a story physically causes a different reaction. Great stories actually deliver a drug like rush of Oxytocin. Dubbed the love hormone, oxytocin is the neurochemical responsible for empathy and the narrative transportation that moves us to action.

We remember stories not bullet points: Hermann Ebbinhaus' forgetting curve shows us just how quickly we forget. We lose 40% of what we just learned in as little as 20 minutes, and 70% within a day. The emotion of a narrative story helps us remember 6-7x better than expository text.

Our brains consume stories faster: We read a narrative twice as fast and remember it twice as much. But aside from our speed reading, we also share stories faster. Viral successes show us time and again-people share stories-not webinars, not PowerPoints.

Perhaps now you're persuaded to incorporate storytelling into your training. But how do you become a great storyteller? It's another widely researched question. Stanford Professor Jennifer Aaker does a wonderful job outlining what to avoid, or as she calls it, the 7 Deadly Sins of Storytelling. While Casey Neistat's best work shows us what to always include--initial tension and an eventual resolution that pull you in, make an impression and compel you to share.

Here are three tips from Casey's work to help you create that tension and resolution:

Be Authentic: Neistat constantly features the real people in his life-his family, his coworkers, members of his audience he just met. Reference real people and don't be afraid of messiness or an unexpected ending. People notice the unpredictable; use it to your advantage. Rather than just sharing the standard corporate success story, imagine telling a story about a salesperson who fails embarrassingly on the first few tries, can't figure out why, but finally adjusts his pitch and goes on to become the company's top earner. It probably happened for real-go ask your number one sales person.

Use Real Language: Neistat is sharp, yet his stories retain a refreshing, childlike clarity that translates across generations. People are numb to pretentious language. Avoiding buzzwords and paying close attention to your word choices are key to building emotion. Think about how little these phrases actually mean: "things of that nature", "leverage [anything]", "value chain analysis" and now avoid them-seriously.

Encourage Participation: The best stories gain strength when other people help shape them with their own experiences. Be open to the give and take of storytelling and actively look for ways to let your audience participate. Here's one way Casey does it: He launched the social app BEME--his answer to the overly curated life that most social apps encourage. The app is designed to capture authentic moments, but just as important, delivers an immediate way for users to give and receive unedited reactions to the stories they share. He also created BEME News where he responds to the questions and reactions (positive or negative) of his audience.

I've seen the storytelling approach work in the world of corporate training too. Trainers using our next-generation learning management system (LMS) include surveys at the end of their courses asking trainees to submit relevant stories. Then they update their courses--incorporating those stories--to increase trainee engagement and retention of key concepts.

A story wins over bullet points every time. While I don't suggest blowing your training budget on international wanderlust, I do suggest having the courage to tell the unexpected story and to invite feedback. Just imagine how it would feel if your next narrative-driven course went viral at the company watercooler or showed up as trending on your company intranet. You'd be truly confident that your audience had heard, absorbed and been moved by your content. And have the satisfaction of knowing that you've followed Casey's precept for innovation, succinctly described as, "If you're doing what everyone else is doing, who gives a $&@!?"

Published on: Aug 24, 2015