How to transform great people into great Storytellers

Client: HPI / Workshop: Storytelling II / Berlin, 06.07.2023

In storytelling, it’s not about you but about your audience.

Every day, presentations are given in offices, and speeches are made on stage while numerous listeners look at their phones, bored. In bars, people try to impress others with their experiences, but often the person opposite thinks: “When will this torture end?”. At home, we watch countless movies, thinking, “That was really boring” or “Everything was so predictable.” This is most dramatically evident in social media, where every day, millions of posts are shared that begin with “I have…”, “I was…” and then follow pictures or videos documenting where one was, what one ate, or what one participated in. Many make the mistake of believing they are reporting or sharing something interesting, but they often just bore their viewers. The reason is that most authors, consciously or unconsciously, are essentially only seeking recognition and applause for their actions, views, or experiences without creating added value for their audience. If we are honest with ourselves and look at our past posts, we realize that we have done precisely that. For those who now want to get more out of their posts, speeches, or presentations, this is where storytelling comes into play.

“What happens next?”

In storytelling, it’s not your experiences that are in the foreground, but your complete attention and focus are on your audience. The goal is to captivate listeners from the first moment with a story, arouse their interest, and constantly have them asking, “What happens next?” Unlike a purely informative post, a story has a conflict or challenge that needs to be overcome. This element drives the plot forward. At the end of a story, the listener often learns something new, helping your audience better retain what you want to convey. Telling stories is fundamentally simple. It follows a strict pattern, a so-called algorithm, and has been practiced for thousands of years. Yet, we have forgotten it over the years in our modern society. How did that happen? From childhood, we learn to get attention for our achievements – be it through a successful picture, a correct answer in class, or an excellent professional performance. We transfer this need to conversations, presentations, speeches, and the development of stories. We focus too much on ourselves and not on our audience, thereby starting to bore them. The reason? We demand attention instead of giving it. Because if everyone just claims to be the center of attention, ultimately, everyone wants to receive something but gives nothing. As children, we were better at this, making up imaginative stories and telling them to others.

Reward the audience with an exciting narrative

So, what makes a story so special? A good story gives the listener attention and recognition, not the narrator. They receive this anyway if their story is captivating. A storyteller appreciates every second the listener dedicates to them and rewards the audience with an exciting narrative. Anything that does not serve the story is ruthlessly cut, no matter how nice you may find it. But how do you achieve this? This was precisely the challenge of this workshop: to turn participants into inspiring storytellers in just one day.

Our Storytelling Workshop Concept: from the small stage to the grandstand

For this transformation process, I use a 3-phase model. From the first moment of the workshop, participants are led away from their “I-perspective” and gradually guided to the “audience-perspective.” This is done through practical exercises, examples, and solid, brief theoretical inputs on storytelling. Throughout the day, I integrate more elements of storytelling so that participants naturally become storytellers while acquiring the necessary expertise. The final exercise involves the participants applying what they have learned to a complex issue as a team and presenting it to an audience through storytelling.

The images show how participants start in a safe zone by introducing each other and how the stage for storytelling then steadily expands. Participants are prepared step by step for each new level through theoretical and practical examples and accompanied by their own exercises to reach deeper levels of storytelling throughout the day.

Thank You!

Firstly, a huge thank you to the amazing participants of this workshop, who achieved extraordinary results on this day. You have proven what many thought impossible. Steve Jobs would have been proud of your final presentations.

Special thanks also go to Martin Talmeier, the leader of the Mittelstand-Digital team at HPI. Without you, such fantastic workshops wouldn’t be possible. For more information, visit: https://hpi.de/projekte/mittelstand-digital-zentrum-berlin.html

The Mittelstand-Digital Center Berlin is part of the “Mittelstand – Digital” funding initiative by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection, offering free workshops on digital transformations for small and medium-sized German companies. https://digitalzentrum-berlin.de

If you are interested in my workshops, here is a small selection:

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  • Leading with Design Thinking+

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  • The Resilience Mindset

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