How to Use Design Principles of Stories to Design Impactful Workshop Experiences with Bastian Küntzel
Stories are so much more than the books we read or the shows we watch. Stories make up the very fabric of our cultures and histories, reaching into every corner of the way we exist and coexist.
We naturally fall back to stories to understand the world. We mythologise, we narrativise, we shape and twist and gild and burnish our experiences so that we might better remember and share them.
Truly, storytelling is one of the most innate and powerful tools humanity shares. To harness its power in a workshop means potentially transformative outcomes that last and spread throughout an organisation long after the facilitator leaves the room.
Bastian Küntzel can attest to this, as can the book he wrote – The Learner’s Journey – all about storytelling as a design principle in educational settings.
Myriam spoke with Bastian to learn more about how we can all bring storytelling into our workshops to facilitate change more effectively and permanently.
Understanding story structure and its application in workshops
Bastian is passionate about stories and was quick to state that storytelling isn’t something you “get into”, but rather that “everything is a story and every experience is a story. You don’t need to tell stories for there to be stories; stories are happening all the time.”
Bastian pointed to how having a protagonist encourages empathy, but also that “we remember in story form.”
“If we want a workshop to be memorable, we need to think in terms of: ‘what is the story I want people to remember when they reflect on this workshop?’”
This is why Bastian believes it is so powerful to “design a workshop with the same building blocks that you can use to create stories.”
Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey is the predominant narrative structure used in fiction writing, but Bastian prefers to refer to a simplified version coined by Dan Harmon, creator of Community and Rick and Morty, that encompasses eight steps which “work remarkably well as design principles in creating workshops.”
These eight steps are:
Stage 1: protagonist
“Where a lot of workshops go wrong,” Bastian explained, “is if the workshop is about the facilitator.”
Instead, we need to establish the group and/or the individual learners as the protagonist in their journey.
“We do that by learning about their world, by learning about their pressures, about how their life looks, what is important to them, what isn’t important to them.” Myriam suggested this is essentially “stakeholder mapping”, to which Bastian agreed entirely.
This stage is all about “a moment in the beginning of the workshop that signifies ‘you are the most important here’… so it starts with them and it starts with their initiative. They decide where they go first, they decide how to contribute, and it starts with them.”
Stage 2: need
This stage is all about “the gap between how things are and how things could be.”
Whatever you are trying to teach or change, “needs to be worth it.” Because “learning is exhausting, not nice, not easy – particularly when it’s something difficult or when it’s something that forces you to change your idea about who you are or to change your perspective.”
“Without it being worth it,” said Bastian, “it’s very difficult to get them to the next phase.”
To help participants move through this stage, Bastian believes the facilitator needs to help participants uncover “a personal question mark – a question they have that comes from within themselves.”
Experiential learning exercises can be highly effective at uncovering these questions, as you can put participants in a place where they can analyse their own reactions, behaviour, and responses in a safe environment.
Helping participants recognise their need means moving them towards a mindset of “it makes sense for me to learn this – it’s not something that someone else wants me to learn, it’s now become something that I want to learn.”
Stage 3: go
We have action, movement, desire! This “can be a very explicit moment where you have people fill in learning journals where they set out their own objectives or their hopes and fears.”
Bastian reflected on one of the most symbolic ‘go’ moments he has experienced, in which it was literally “the movement of the group from the plenary room to the workshop rooms.” For Bastian, it was a beautiful way of visualising “the change of gear; the transition from the known to the unknown.”
Stage 4: search
This stage is likely to be most familiar to facilitators of all backgrounds, as it is in this phase that “the activities happen that we most commonly think about.”
This is the phase where participants really begin learning – through lectures, podcasts, spec books, group work.
“It’s about experimentation, it’s about failing,” explained Bastian, “and repeating that and experimenting and struggling but developing.” Or, as Myriam put it, “failing forward”.
Bastian was keen to stress that the search phase is “a controlled process by the facilitator”, but what comes next cannot be controlled…
Stage 5: find
Searching is not easy. It is messy and complicated and uncertain. But, “at the bottom of the circle, the darkest point” in the story, “people find something.” Hopefully, it is their “aha moment”.
The facilitator has to relinquish that sense of control at this stage, “because we can’t ever say ‘I’m going to tell you what you are going to find’. People may find different things.”
Whatever it is the participants find, this is where “the lightbulb starts to blink, where a perspective is changed where a paradigm has shifted, where something is finally understood deeply.”
Reaching this stage requires fortitude and trust on all sides – it cannot be planned for or scripted. As Myriam put it, “these aha moments are very individual”, and we need to trust in the process. If someone finds their aha moment sooner than the person next to them, that doesn’t mean the workshop is failing. Quite the opposite.
“What I like about this reflection”, Myriam noted, “is the responsibility of the facilitator to provide the space and taking away this pressure from the participant.
And if someone doesn’t find something at this stage, “it means that you didn’t design the workshop for them” or their needs. This is why establishing the work to establish the protagonists at the beginning is essential.
Stage 6: take
Taking, or incorporating, is all about assimilating the new information – “the lightbulb is still there next to them and it’s still detached from them.”
Bastian believes this stage “means working with it, figuring out ‘what is my way of expressing this – the fact that I am now able to do this, or I am now someone who knows this, or I am now someone who looks at the world with this perspective’.”
He framed this in a beautifully descriptive way, explaining that incorporating this new information or perspective is an act of “trying it on, walking around in it a little bit to see how it fits.”
This stage is “something that a lot of training misses”, as they focus so much on the finding. In school, “you have the lectures and then you have the exam, but it’s not yet incorporated.”
Our workshops should not be a ‘learning by rote’ experience, both Myriam and Bastian agreed.
Stage 7: return
Once the group have found what they were looking for and the workshop has come to its close, it’s time to bring all this “new knowledge, ways of acting, and new perspectives back into your old reality.” To move from “incorporation to integration”
This is a time, Bastian says, to ask “who in your old reality has a completely reasonable interest for you not to use what you’ve learned here?”
Myriam agreed wholeheartedly, stating how important it is to identify “potential roadblocks”.
“This isn’t something we typically spend a lot of time on,” noted Bastian, “because time is scarce, but it’s something that is really powerful when you can do it because it allows for a more mature way to think strategically about how you want to make your workshop sustainable and worth it.”
It was just three days where I had fun thinking in strange ways but now I go back and act like I always have or think of ways I can actually make this take roots and becomes part of the world that wasn’t here.
“The workshop room is like a bubble,” Myriam added, “everyone in the room creates something together and there is this optimism – this combination of positive energy and maybe overconfidence. As soon as this bubble is taken apart and you’re just an individual, it’s so much harder to convince the others.”
Shaping “the confidence and the clarity about the obstacles, how you overcome them, and how you make it worth it”, is how you make “the whole work that you just went through” last.
Stage 8: change
At this point, the learners have hopefully changed and the environment that they bring the change into will then change as a result.
At this point, “we really don’t have any power anymore as facilitators, this is really all up to the learners.”
What’s the story of your workshops?
Even if storytelling seems like an alien concept to your workshop design, Bastian is confident that you will find it easier to implement than you might think.
“Every great trainer uses a bunch of stories all the time. We tell anecdotes, we use case studies.”
“It is not, in any way, innovative to use storytelling in education.” Quite the opposite, in fact, “it is intuitive.”
How will you embrace storytelling in your workshops? You can find out more about Bastian’s approach, with plenty of examples and case studies (stories in themselves) in episode 64 of workshops work.
You can listen to the show on your favourite podcast player, searching for “workshops work” or stream the episodes on www.workshops.work.
*** If you enjoyed reading my article, please share it with your network and sign up for my newsletter.