Do you ever feel a little warm with pressure on the flight to a conference?
Perhaps scanning the agenda, or otherwise mapping out your plan, reminds you that you’re responsible for generating the ROI?
As I was en route to Chicago this week for The Innovation Learning Network’s Storytelling 2.0 conference, I will own that I was feeling warmer than usual. My clinical counterparts save lives, and I’m getting better at telling stories?
Not only did the conference itself quickly dismiss these feelings, other aspects of our work this week sent a clear message about the importance of storytelling. I stepped out of my “story speed dating” workshop to join a colleague for a media interview about an exciting HFA announcement we’ll spotlight on this blog on Monday. Explaining the new effort well required sharing a much broader story, as you'll see.
And as this was happening, HFA fellow Stephanie Guang was texting me the news that the HFA team won the startup pitch competition at the Medical Sensors Design Conference in Boston (and she got one of those oversized checks to prove it). She pitched the KnightCap wake-up stroke solution in three minutes, with one slide, and opened with: “It’s 7:00 am. You are jolted awake by the sound of your alarm and you reach over to hit the snooze button. But, you can’t move your arm…” (Plus she was the only recent grad and woman pitching!)
The reality is, your organization—and mission—need effective storytelling.
Lessons from Master Storytellers
So, how can you get better at telling stories in business and healthcare settings? Here are some of my favorite lessons from the ILN conference:
Art is a team sport. Not surprisingly, our speaker from Pixar Animation Studios, Dr. Michael B. Johnson, is an excellent storyteller. In working for the well-known, movie-making machine, he emphasized that great storytellers have to embrace a culture of constructive criticism when creating and refining their work, and accept that the best ideas win when crafting stories (even if you’re emotionally attached to your own). Why? Because the pain of getting feedback is temporary, he explained, but the “suck” that comes with avoiding feedback can be forever (especially when investing years in creating a movie!). To create a friendlier ideation environment, he recommended “plussing”—say “yes and” rather than “no but” when you brainstorm in teams about making work better.
You may already have “newsworthy” storytelling technology at your fingertips. As we learned from Steve Dolinsky, an award-winning food journalist, he shoots some of his own visuals to accompany major news stories via an iPhone 7 Plus. The results are of high enough quality to be used during evening newscasts and in major print papers. And if you are going to invest in more specialized reporting tools, just a few hundred dollars can go a long way in getting the right equipment—like a high-quality microphone and recorder—to produce a podcast.
Think about communication less as a presentation, and more as an experience. I was lucky to take an “innovation safari” to the Center for Collaborative Healthcare Design and witness the wonders that can come from stepping away from the projector. For example, I was invited to walk through a “room” of stakeholder insights, versus looking at a long PowerPoint deck. This sounds intimidating, but it was actually quite approachable. They created “walls” that were giant foam core posters on stands, and showcased what they learned on them in basic ways. For instance, they displayed pictures of the inside of patients’ homes; posted quotes they heard; showed the results of clinicians expressing their feelings through a common set of pictures to make patterns apparent—and much more. Not only was this effective for our group, it made an impact on the leaders they were serving (there’s no agenda for this meeting and you want me to walk through what?!).
Sometimes you truly need to “show” a struggle. We learned about another great projector-free storytelling win on the safari. The team spent months trying to convince a healthcare executive why creating a common, lengthy script likely wouldn’t work for social workers who were going into patients’ homes. After conversations stalled, one of them took rough video footage of a patient visit. Suddenly, when the leader watched a disruptive dog get sick in the middle of a visit while the patient was continually interrupted via a cell phone as well, it was clear that a one-size-fits-all script was not always going to work for this group.
There are simple ways you can “hack” common email and presentation formats, or even create prototypes instead. As some tremendous presenters from Salesforce—one of our main hosts—shared, storytellers have the power to break through the monotony of EEMP (emails emails meetings PowerPoint). With emails, try punching up your subject line, using memes to drive engagement, or making it ridiculously simple to complete your request. One of Obama’s most effective fundraising emails “from him” had the unexpected sender-subject line combo of “Hey.” For presentations, they recommended PechaKucha: try 20 slides x 20 seconds; PowToon: create animations quickly; Mentimeter: get real-time participation; and Catchbox: inspire a different kind of interaction with your audience. As for making a prototype, this can be as simple as taking your PowerPoint out of presenter mode and co-creating some very basic content on slides with your audience.
This week reminded me that you shouldn’t put effective storytelling in the backseat or on a pedestal. Use it daily as a tool for achieving your goals—and invest in getting better at it.
Mandy Dorn is the Director of Health for America at MedStar Health and a Program Director at MedStar Institute for Innovation. The views in this post are her own.