Storytelling & Leadership – 4 Point Story Method

Storytelling is the art of engaging, moving and inspiring people but it is difficult to do without a good story.  The stories that are most likely to inspire people will be about people.  This 4 point story method can help leaders to quickly identify and develop powerful stories of how an intervention, service or programme impacted upon patients, staff and organisations involved.
In my last post I showed how the results of a healthcare improvement project could be expressed as a set of outcomes (which on their own can be dry and unmoving) or as a story (which ‘makes it real’ as one twitter user replied).  As natural storytellers, it is easy to see the difference and, because we tell stories every day in our interactions with our friends and family, it should be straightforward to get the hang of what makes a good story.
The following method I have derived from the value creation framework developed by Etienne and Bev Wenger-Trayner that I am pioneering in the care settings that I work in every week.  This tool is designed to evaluate the efficacy of social learning interventions and communities of practice through ‘horizontal’ qualitative stories of how people engage with the communities activities that are then supported by ‘vertical’ indicators and data.  While this is a powerful method in itself, it is also more complex than is necessary for our storytelling needs and, if we look at the principle behind the framework, we find a very useful story structure.
As I explained, powerful stories centre on specific people.  The 4 point story method uses four questions to elicit the story of how a person engaged with a specific intervention, what they got out of it, how they applied this new knowledge and what the result of this was.
4 point story method for powerful value stories

  1. What happened?
  2. What did the person get out of it?
  3. How did the person apply this?
  4. What was the result?


  1.  What happened? Doctor Smith watched a film on patient leadership as part of the 2016 Transformathon.
  2. What did she get out of this? She was inspired to start a patient leadership programme in her hospital.
  3. How did he apply this? She contacted the Yorkshire and Humber Leadership Academy to ask about any other local programmes that she could learn from.
  4. What was the result? Dr Smith is now collaborating with a local established patient leadership programme to develop a programme in her context.

The validity and power of the story lies in the casual link between each of these questions and the emotional content of the story provided by Dr Smith.  For qualitative evaluations such as this to be convincing, the story must irrefutably show that the result is a direct consequence of the initial engagement with the intervention.  Further power can be added if the story can be supported by indicators and data.  For example, if the above story was used to support the evaluation of the Transformathon, such indicators might be the number of people engaging with the online patient leadership resources and the data might be website statistics.
These four questions help us to elicit these stories and I have used them with a lot of success, particularly in short video interviews such as this video I made for a responsive communication training intervention in a Sheffield special school.  All the staff interviewed were responding to the questions described above and I find that the interviewee is encouraged to talk directly about the important themes.
The next part of this series will look at the value creation framework in more depth…

Storytelling and Social Learning Leadership

I am a professional storyteller and have been trained in Social Learning Leadership by Etienne Wenger and Bev Wenger Trainer.  Storytelling is the art of engaging and inspiring people and it is the skill that has most impacted on my work – being able to talk seems crucial for creating momentum for change.
When I was training in storytelling 10 years ago I attended a workshop facilitated by Mats Rehnman, a Swedish storyteller.  One of the concepts that he taught on the course was the difference between the story and the commentary on the story.  For example, a commentary would be to say that the “the boy was sad” as opposed to “the boy stared at the floor as a single tear rolled down his cheek”.  In the first example there is no picture, while in the second the listener sees the boy and infers the sadness.
How is this relevant to leadership? The most common mistake that I hear people making in presentations or elevator pitches is to talk in generalities rather than specifics, that is to say to use commentary rather than stories.  A colleague asked me this week to listen to her powerpoint presentation and made this exact mistake.  After 10 minutes there had been little content to enjoy or move me emotionally.  Talking in generalities like this would sound like:
Stakeholder:  How is the project going?
Project Leader: Well, 6 in 10 patients showed improved wellbeing scores, attendance was up, and the staff culture survey showed the job satisfaction has improved.
As in the above example of a commentary, we can see that there is nothing in the way of imagery and nothing emotional left for the audience to infer.  On hearing my colleagues presentation, my advice was to bring use more specific stories and anecdotes.  Tell a story of one patient rather than talking about ‘patients’.  Give us some feedback from an actual nurse rather than talking about the ‘staff’.  The result might sound something like this.
Stakeholder: How is the project going?
Project Leader: visited the ward last Wednesday to evaluate the work and one of the patients beamed when he saw me and said that this work is what keeps him going.  At handover I chatted with one of the male nurses and he told me that he had observed that one of the patients had actually relaxed and joined in during the session that took place the previous week. The nurse said that, even though leading session isn’t his cup of tea, he tried running the activity himself and with some degree of success (albeit without the guitar).  He and the patient now have a new way to be together and the nurse said this has helped his day to day work because this particular patient was often aggressive.  I also interviewed the ward manager and he simply lit up when he told me that the work had brought out the best in the patients and the staff.
The first example is simply a string of facts and this is unlikely to ignite the emotions of the teller or inspire the audience.  The second example however tells a story and as the listener we can see the image of the patient beaming, the male nurse relating his experience and the ward manager being excited.  In contrast to the telling of dry facts, the teller will be moved because the story has emotional content and imagery.  If the teller is emotionally moved then the audience will reciprocate this and will engage more with the teller and the tellling.
In social learning leadership these ‘value stories’ are very important to communicate the value of an intervention or project.  The power of the story comes from the casual link from a specific event to what someone got out of it, how they applied this and finally what the result was.  The dry data and indicators are then used to support this value story rather than being the main focus of the presentation.  With these specifics in mind and it is much easier for a leader to tell a powerful and moving story.  In storytelling this is called letting the story tell itself.  Even a very skilled storyteller will find it difficult to inspire an audience without a good story.
For more information about the application of storytelling in leadership and social learning training get in touch using the contact page to start a conversation.