Using Impactful Words and Stories

Why do people prefer to use one training programme over another?

They choose programmes with impact.  Programmes with impact have words that influence and stories that stick in people’s memories.

In defining what I believe is a critical element of writing for learning, I’ll make my case by amending the well-known quote from Animal Farm

“All words are equal, but some words are more equal than others”

And there are certain power words that hold more sway over our learning engagement than others.  You might be surprised to find that these “power words” don’t seem . . . well, all that powerful.

We design learning with one foot in the world of a copywriter.  We are selling ideas.

As trainers we need to sell ideas about the right way to do things, the right behaviour, how to solve a problem.

We have to have strong leanings to the skills of the copywriter if we are to be successful.

Here are two of the most engaging words that copywriters use that we seldom see in training copy.


According to research brain activation, few things light us up more than seeing our names in print or on the screen.  Our names are closely tied to our self-perception and make up a large part of our identity.  No surprise then, that we become more engaged and even more trusting of a message in which our name appears.

Writing general training copy with name utilisation is seldom possible but you can overcome this to a degree by personalising with the word ‘you’.

  • The full speed can be attained by increasing the pressure on the accelerator”

Sounds much better as . . .

  • “You can make the car go faster by pressing down on the accelerator”

This personalises the action and helps the trainee visualise the action.


In a study from the classic book “Influence” by Robert Cialdini, tests were conducted on requests from a person in a hurry to use an in-office copy machine.  The tests examined how different requests might affect people’s willingness to allow this person to “cut” into the queue.

In the first test, the participant simply stated:

“Excuse me, I have 5 pages.  May I use the copy machine”.

In this scenario, around 60% of people allowed her to cut in and use the machine first.

In the next scenario, the request was slightly changed to . . .

“I have 5 pages.  May I use the copy machine, because I am in a rush?”

Did you see the subtle difference between the two?

Not only was the request only minimally changed, but the “because” (Her reason is barely a reason at all!)  “Because I’m in a rush” wouldn’t stand up as a good excuse for most of us, right?  Aren’t we all in a rush?

Despite what we might like to believe, around 94% of people allowed her to cut in the line.  In the 3rd test . . .

Éxcuse me, I have 5 pages.  May I use the copy machine because I have to make copies?”

93% of people let her cut in on this 3rd trial.  That’s a 33% improvement on the first test.

According to Cialdini:

“A well—known principle of human behaviour says that when we ask someone to do us a favour, we will be more successful if we provide a reason.  People simply like to have reasons for what they do (or learn).”

You have to remember when you’re focusing on writing to persuade people to learn their number one question is . . .

“What’s in it for me”