Storytelling for Innovators 

by | Aug 17, 2023 | Education, Thought Leadership

Educational events at Fogarty Innovation usually start with two ingredients: a topic of high value to healthcare entrepreneurs and a subject matter expert who is willing to share an hour of their time and expertise. Add some tasty sandwiches and voilà – a Fogarty Education Lunch & Learn is born.

For our recent event on storytelling, however, the process was a bit different. Despite his assertions that he is not a natural storyteller, we tapped Greg Bakan, FI director of strategic initiatives, as our expert.  We knew Greg was the right person to lead this presentation because he is exceptionally skilled at research, boiling down complex issues into key messages, and presenting them in a concise, logical way, 

The resulting event would have made the storytelling podcast, The Moth, proud. First Greg wove lessons on narrative storytelling into a presentation about the storytelling assignment and how he went about developing it. Then, at the end, he pulled back the curtain to reveal the techniques he had used throughout the talk to maximize its recall and impact. 

In case you missed the live version, here are some of the key points he covered: 

What is Storytelling and Why Does it Matter?

Greg defined a story as a description of connected events designed to convey information to the audience. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and it makes you want to find out what happened next.  Storytelling, by comparison, is the interactive art of using words and actions to convey the elements and images of a story in a way that engages you, both intellectually and emotionally.

Storytelling has a foundational role in human history as an essential method of conveying information and connecting people. According to Greg, storytelling has played such an important role in our social and cultural evolution that it is actually hardwired into our physiology, as evidenced by brain structures that respond to the informative and emotional components of the story, and by accompanying increases in certain neurotransmitters and hormones.  

Focusing on the Narrative

“For our purposes in business, the type of story we want to tell is a narrative,” Greg continued. “If a story is a recounting of a series of events, a narrative is a way of presenting those events in a mediated and logical order that seeks to change how an audience thinks, feels, internalizes, and acts on the information we provide.” 

Here, of course, is where things get interesting.  “We’re not just reporters, we’re curating what information goes into the story,” Greg said. “We’re going to mediate those elements, put them in a logical order, and seek to influence the beliefs and behaviors of our audience. So what we are really doing here is building a story to persuade.”

Storytelling in Medtech Entrepreneurship

While in our industry, we most often think about storytelling in the context of fundraising, Greg pointed out that the applications are actually much broader.  “Think about persuading an employee to join your company in a competitive market, or convincing a clinical site to work with you and your team.”  He continued, “Even with projects that seem primarily analytic and numbers/data-driven like FDA filings or reimbursement submissions… you’re actually telling a story in every one of those documents so you’ve got to shape them in a way that’s persuasive.”

To meet all these needs, Greg suggested that entrepreneurs develop a portfolio of stories, including:

  • Founder story – Who are you? How and why did you come up with this idea?
  • Value story – What is your problem, solution, and why does it matter?
  • Vision Story – What is your vision for a better future? What do you aspire to achieve?
  • Customer Story – How has/will your solution change lives?

Four Pillars of Persuasion

The next step is to craft those narrative stories in a way that impacts audience beliefs and behaviors by achieving the following four “pillars of persuasion”:

  • Engagement – your message can only get through if the audience is engaged
  • Trust – the listener has to trust in, and relate to the speaker 
  • Logic – the argument has to make sense and be supported by facts and reason 
  • Emotion – the lens through which all other items will be shaped

“Start with engagement,” Greg said.  “Find a way to get the audience involved because if they’re not listening to you, you’re not going to persuade them.” Next, build the audience’s trust and confidence as you speak. Then make sure the flow of information holds together and makes logical sense. And finally, connect with the listeners emotionally. “Studies show that as soon as you introduce emotion in the story, it is much more likely to be remembered,” said Greg.

To achieve those four pillars, Greg offered the following menu of potential techniques to draw from:

Posture and motionSignal your experienceFramingShare a personal story
SurpriseBe relatableSequencingRelate how you felt
Pose questionsBe authenticCoherenceBe open, get vulnerable
Fill in the blankShare a personal storyCompetenceLeverage full range
Create suspenseHighlight a turning pointShow don’t tellTrigger empathy
HumorAvoid gimmicksSatisfying conclusionTension and release

Finally, Greg shared the idea of building “mini-stories” into your overall narrative. These are brief, supporting side stories inserted at natural break points in the main narrative. These “punctuation points” are designed to achieve specific goals such as providing supporting data, engendering trust, or engaging the listeners emotion. The combination of the main narrative and these more personal side stories can elevate your presentation, making it more powerful, convincing, and memorable to the audience. 

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