Transformative Storytelling

I regularly teach a Transformative Storytelling workshop organized by BeSocialChange at the Centre for Social Innovation in New York City. I wrote this post as a resource for former and prospective students, as well as anybody else interested in the subject matter. You will find an outline of what we cover in the workshop as well as links to resources below.

Course Description

Storytelling is more than a marketing tool. It’s a management tool.
In this class, we uncover the narrative structures and strategies used by social change practitioners and entrepreneurs for building community and inspiring action. This is a workshop for makers and social entrepreneurs who want to strengthen their skills in storytelling to transform themselves, their teams, and their broader communities. Storytelling is a powerful tool for building a shared identity, for facilitating mutual understanding, and for facilitating collective action.
We will draw upon successful storytelling methodologies and strategies from the fields of social activism, marketing, and the arts. We will examine and decode examples of successful (and not so successful) storytelling. This class will get “hands on” with activities and exercises that will encourage participants to practice their new storytelling skills.

Every time that I teach the workshop, I iterate and adapt the format and material to make it more effective. I have been experimenting with a new “campfire” format with all of the participants sitting in a circle and keeping things as discussion-based as possible and no slides. I previously did it more lecture-style with a Keynote deck. It’s basically the same material but I think ditching the slides and focusing on human interaction works better in taking advantage of the in-person class setting. Here are the slides from the previous version of the class for reference:

Characteristics of Transformative Stories

  • Characteristics of Transformative Stories
  • Spark action but respect intelligence and agency (NOT propaganda);
  • Are intensely personal and emotional (appeal to senses);
  • Can transform the teller as well as the receiver;
  • Are spreadable, seductive, self-perpetuating;
  • Speak to greater truth even if not literally true.

Workshop Outline

  • Introduction: Welcome, who am I, logistics and summary of agenda
  • Discuss: Why are you here tonight? Why is storytelling important?
  • Five Why’s Activity: Pair up. Ask your partner “Why are you here tonight?” Let them answer. Take notes of their response. Repeat until you have asked “Why” five times. Each answer should be different. Don’t ask any other follow up questiosn until you have asked why five times. Then have your partner ask you “Why are you here tonight” x 5.
  • Share: A select number of teams share each other’s stories with the whole class.
  • Discuss: Why do you think we do this exercise? How did it make you feel? Why do we ask “why”? How can you apply this to your own work?
  • Mini-Lecture: What makes a story transformative? Transformative story structure: anecdote, reflection, call-to-action. How to use senses and emotion to grab attention. How do you build suspense and mystery? What is a logline and how do you use one to condense the essence of a story?
  • Practice/Examples: Facilitator and select participants share examples of anecdotes and personally-transformative stories and get feedback from their peers.
  • Artifacts Activity: Find a new partner. Take turns sharing the story behind a personal artifact that you have on you today (article of clothing, accessory, jewelry, photograph on your phone, something in your pocket or purse, etc.). Help your partner by asking follow up questions to dig deeper into the story.
  • Discuss: What did we learn from the Artifacts Activity? Why do we do it? How can we apply this to our own work?
  • Choose Your Own Adventure: This is the part where I share my own stories and insights from my work. A participant volunteers and chooses one of the printed images laid out in the center of the room (see photo below). Then I tell the story behind each image, repeating the process until all of the images have been chosen. Stories that I share include: the story behind my name, the story behind my company’s name and mascot, my work with miLES, the Inzovu Curve, the Innovation Spirit Animals, and how to tell the story of a movement like Meu Rio/Nossas Cidades & All Out.
  • Final Discussion: Feedback, reflections, learnings, questions
Transformative Storytelling workshop participants share stories behind personal artifacts. Centre for Social Innovation, New York, August 24, 2015


  • Five Innovation Spirit Animals, an article that I wrote and reference in the workshop
  • Inzovu Curve, the narrative and design framework for turning profound emotional experiences into action, and a recent talk I gave about it:
  • A blog post about the Transformative Storytelling workshop, written by Kimberly Maul Green, a former student
  • Want to learn more? Hone your storytelling skills with workshops at The Story Studio (NYC, LA, and Online)
  • A compelling story is an important part of your strategy. Learn more by reading Howell Malham’s book I Have A Strategy, No You Don’t
  • Another recommended book: The Misfit Economy by Alexa Clay and Kyra Maya Phillips
  • I am also available as a coach and consultant for your personal and professional storytelling needs. Email me:

The next session of Transformative Storytelling will be on September 21, 2015 at New York’s Centre for Social Innovation. Register here and use discount code Huang25 to get 25% off tuition.