In this article, we talk about why persona stories are more useful than persona CVs. While CVs can provide information, they do not evoke emotions and empathy, which is the whole point of creating learner personas.

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I’ve written previously (quite a bit, in fact!) about learner personas, and how to make them work for you.

You are already aware that we create personas so we can understand our audience better. With personas, we’re also able to empathize with their character, their ambitions and their struggles, so we can create targeted solutions to help address them.

In this post, I want to focus on this empathy.

While creating personas, the practice is to collect all the information needed, and then build out each persona in the form of a CV. There are even templates available that you can download and fill in.

This exercise, though somewhat useful, is far from sufficient. Why? Because as I argue in this article, “How many times have you looked at a CV and been able to really empathize with that person? That’s because a CV happens to be impersonal. Even though the persona might be described as a single parent struggling with a million demands on their time and energy, and is a go-getter who doesn’t take no for an answer.”

CVs don’t evoke emotion. They don’t evoke empathy. And that’s exactly what we are trying to achieve through the persona creation exercise… isn’t it?

The solution? Persona stories.

Basically, I’m talking about creating a short story around each persona, encompassing all the joys and the frustrations, the challenges and the goals, and even the quirks and shortcomings of the persona.

What? Are you kidding? Who has the time to create stories around each persona?

I hear you.

Since personas are only for the designers’ eyes, and they don’t seem to get used anywhere else once they’re created, this can seem like a wasteful activity.

But think about this. Persona building is a one-time exercise. If done well, you will be referring to these personas in building all your solutions subsequently. After that, you will only have to refresh them occasionally to make sure they’re still relevant. And that’s about it.

Considering that you and your team would be looking to these personas to inform some of your design, doesn’t it make sense to make them stronger? And more realistic than a simple CV?

And one more thing: Once written, you can unabashedly use these persona stories in your course design. How, you ask?

Do any of your courses have a mentor or guide that makes an appearance at regular intervals? Use your persona stories to create their profile. Do your courses have one or more characters? Use your persona definitions to outline those characters.

In fact, if the persona stories are well written, you can even use them as they are, with minimal tweaks.

These personas are based on your real audience profiles, and you’ve spent a lot of time piecing together their characteristics and their quirks. So there’s no reason for you to not leverage them within your courses. In fact, doing that will make your characters all the more relatable.

Now that we’ve established why stories are helpful, let’s look at the how.

Your story can be something on the lines of ‘a hero’s journey’, or even ‘a day in the life of…’, anything to make your persona, well, more like a person.

Here, it helps to draw inspiration from your favorite fictional characters, in books, movies, or any other medium… and put your storytelling skills to full use.

Let’s take an example. In an earlier article, I used a sample persona to make a few points. Let’s take the same sample here… given below.

1Name and designationSelena Sweeney
Executive, HR
2Time with the organization1.5 years
3Goals and objectivesIs ambitious; wants to grow quickly within the organization and start handling a team
4Challenges, concerns and pain pointsIs extremely time poor; though she’s efficient with her tasks, she barely has time on hand for anything extra
5Learning habitsIs a voracious reader, and loves to devour any content that helps her improve at work
6Data awarenessHer economics degree gives her a reasonable background in statistics and data awareness; so, when it comes to adopting a more data centric approach than the one that’s currently prevailing, this should help
7Interests and favorite pastimesLoves books and the outdoors; in her free time, you can see her curled up with a book or hiking a trail
8Communication channels usedE-mail, slack, the intranet portal, LinkedIn, and a bit of Instagram
9Demographics and personal backgroundAge: 28
Pronouns: She/Her
Education: Graduation in economics
Personal Information: Single mother to toddler twins – a girl and a boy
Other: Identifies as neuro divergent

As you see, the table above is cold and impersonal. How can we spin this as a story, so that the persona reads more like an individual going through their ups and downs in life. Well, here’s my attempt.

Selena Sweeney is a force to reckon with. She’s been an HR executive for the past 1.5 years, and is ambitious and driven, with a burning desire to grow quickly within the organization and eventually start managing her own team.

Selena’s biggest challenge is time. Though she’s efficient with her tasks, she has little time to spare for anything else. Despite this, she has a voracious appetite for knowledge and is always reading up on ways to improve her work.

When she does have some free time, Selena loves nothing more than curling up with a good book or hitting the trails for a hike. She’s also a dedicated single mother to toddler twins – a boy and a girl. She identifies as neurodivergent. Despite her challenges, she is determined to succeed, and with her intellect and drive, there’s no doubt that she will.

Luckily, Selena’s background in economics gives her a solid understanding of statistics and data awareness. She is eager to adopt a more data-centric approach to her work, which will help her in achieving her goals.

The format of your story doesn’t have to be rigid. If you have five personas, that doesn’t mean that you have to write five stories – one for each persona. You can write a single story where each persona appears as a character, interacting with the other characters. That makes them even more real and relatable.

Writing stories doesn’t mean that your CV-like personas will stop existing. They can and should in fact co-exist, each serving a different purpose. While the story makes the persona more relatable, the CV will be more complete, and provide information about the persona at a glance.

So, what do you think? Do you agree? I’d love to hear from you.

Written by Srividya Kumar, Co-Founder @ Learnnovators

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