Using stories

Cambodian houseBopha is married and has two children. She grows vegetables and makes baskets.  Today, Bopha wakes up first, prepares the breakfast. She checks how much money she has left. She gives some to her children. Once they are off to school, she picks up vegetables, takes her baskets and goes to the market. After selling most of her items, she buys rice and fish and some nice fabric. On her way home, she buys water and tells the seller she has enough cash at home to pay tonight. Once home, she finds out that her husband took the last banknote and bought a pack of cigarettes. What happened to her money?
Any idea? She bought food and fabric… but for how much? How much did she earn? It is hard to tell… how could she know for sure what she did with her money? … by tracking her incomes and expenses. Compare this story with giving a spreadsheet detailing Bopha’s expenses. What is more empowering: letting you participants discover by themselves that tracking helps know what we do with money… or imposing tracking as the only solution?
Don’t build the bridge to cross the river, but help your participants learn to build it, or a boat, or learn to swim. The more solutions participants discover by themselves to the problems you raise, the more likely they will use them in their lives.
Stories are very useful for this. Why? First of all, stories are less aggressive than having to share your own experience. By asking participants to share their own issues, especially in a very sensitive area like personal finance, they may feel very uncomfortable and… lock themselves – you have lost them, their brain is not ready to learn but is switched to defence mode. Stories contribute to a safer learning environment. Besides, it is always easier to see the issues in others’ lives than ours – stories are great for that too as long as they are close enough to your participants’ lives so that they can identify to the characters and find solutions that can apply to their own problems.
Stories involve multiple characters– so this is an engaging way to look at money issues in a family or social context. You can also create further episodes or let participants write or tell the sequel of your stories. This helps make time more tangible and understand that a decision taken today can impact our situation in two months’… or a year’s time.  Finally as trainer your goal is that participants use what they learn beyond the training room… guess what, stories are memorable: can you remember stories you were told as a child? Stories stick to the mind for a long time… much more than spreadsheets!
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