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Story Week is coming...
When conducting Narrative Insight (story-listening) projects we are often faced with the challenge of selecting from a large volume of anecdotes. We started with three criteria: impact, relevance and clarity. This has now expanded to six.
Shawn and I, Victoria Ward from Sparknow and Matt Moore from Innotecture have joined forces and designed a little project to find out a bit more about what stories have influence and impact. We've found quite a difference in views, even among ourselves. So we're inviting our combined readership and their networks (and their networks) to participate in Story Week (starting May 4th). Over 5 days we're going to show you 5 stories from different people in different formats, intended for very different audiences and settings. You're going to tell us how you respond to them. We'll tell you what you collectively told us. We'll all learn something in the process. Oh, and it will be fun, too.
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I met Terrence Garguilo for the first time a few years ago in Las Vegas at a storytelling workshop. He was one of the facilitators and he left a strong impression as a generous, thoughtful practitioner who has tremendous drive; he has written 8 books and I’d be surprised if he is 40.
Once Upon a Time is his latest book. He’s taken his considerable experience as a communications expert and facilitator and created a practical guide in ways to use story-based activities to improve communication and engagement regardless of the setting. The first part of the book provides context for how to effectively use story-based techniques. This includes the role stories have for sense-making and ways of thinking about stories such as Terrence’s nine ground rules for working with stories which are:
Be able to expand or collapse a story
Incorporate material relevant to the group into stories
Be willing to be vulnerable with a group
Make sure there is a congruence between your stories and your behaviour
Elicit more stories than you tell
Be open, respectful, and non-judgemental of the stories people share
Connect stories to one another
Build in more room for story sharing when designing learning
The majority of the book is contained in part two of the book, which documents 17 story-based workshop activities. I have included one of the activities below in our techniques section of this newsletter. These activities are designed to help groups make sense of stories, tell their own stories or develop skills (such as listening) to make the most of stories when they are told. Terrence has a particular desire to connect people and connect stories in his activities.
This book sits right in front of me with those books I want to have at close hand for ready reference.
I was attending a storytelling conference at the Smithsonian and I heard a wonderful presentation by Madelyn Blair of Pelerei, Inc. She spoke about the power and poetry of words. Madelyn has done some fascinating work with ambassadors to the United Nations (UN). She shared the details of one intervention in which she asked ambassadors to identify a word from the preamble to the UN Charter that was important to them and to tell a story triggered by that word. She played some examples for us, and the stories were mesmerising. I have used a similar process in my work with organizations and their missions statements, but as I listened to Madelyn I was struck by the applicability of the process for individuals. So I designed an activity.
Use words to trigger stories and connections
Increase awareness of how words can be used to index stories
Encourage associations and linkages between people and ideas
[I would add, to help the participants be aware of the different things people find meaningful and value]
Copies of the organization's mission statement
Thirty to forty-five minutes
Hand out a copy of the organization's mission statement
Instruct people to read it and circle words or short phrases that are important to them
Give people ten minutes to jot down stories (experiences they have had that are triggered by the words they circled).
Storytelling for leaders training for an internal university in a bank - ongoing
Community of practice support for an engineering firm - ongoing
Leadership development programs - ongoing
Helping to develop narrative practice in a development bank
Change program for a national postal service
Change advice for a 250 year old institution
Spreading innovative practice in a government department
Storytelling for leaders training for a range of organisations
Helping natural resource management bodies work more collaboratively
Facilitating strategic planning workshop for 120 people from a community services organisation
Upcoming Events that we're running or attending:
London narrative workshops in June
Looks like we are going to get an interesting group of people at our workshops from organisations such as Norwich Union, Microsoft, Royal Bank of Scotland, IDEA and Addelshaw & Goddard. There are still some places. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org to register your interest.
Terrence Gargiulo said, “The shortest distance between two people is a story.” Quentin Tarantino’s first movie, Reservoir Dogs, provides a vivid example of this. An undercover policeman is trying to win the confidence of hardened crime boss who is putting together a team to rob a diamond wholesaler. To do this, the undercover policemans’ ‘handler’ has him learn and use ‘the commode story.’ He then tells the commode story to the crime boss and his gang in a bar scene. You can see the crime boss’ expression change from suspicion (at the start of the story) to acceptance (at the end of the story).
The commode story is essentially an amusing anecdote about a drug deal. You can watch the commode story on YouTube. BEWARE, if you click on the link you will hear some pretty extreme language.
In the scene, Tarantino uses the undercover policeman's handler to describe some of the key aspects of effective storytelling:
“The things you gotta remember are the details. The details sell your story. This particular story takes place in a men’s room. You gotta know all the details: whether they got paper towels or a blower to dry your hands. You gotta know if the stalls ain’t got no doors or not. You gotta know if they got liquid soap or that pink, granulated stuff they used in high school. You gotta know if they got water or not, if it stinks ... You gotta know every detail there is to know about this commode. What you gotta do is take all them details and make ’em your own. While you’re doing that, remember that this story is about you, and how you perceived the events that went down. The only way to do that is keep sayin’ it, and sayin’ it and sayin’ it.”
Some of the key things we cover in our storytelling workshops are things implied in this script extract:
Effective storytelling is really quite simple—you need to picture yourself there and describe what you see. This gives you access to all the details that make your story plausible and convincing
Our stories improve when we practice them—I was recently on a telephone hookup and one of the participants said “you need to tell a story nine times for it to become your own.”
So, if you are ever in the position of needing to gain the confidence of a hardened crime boss (or an audience, a subordinate, colleague, boss, partner, child etc. etc.) then the best way (the shortest distance) to achieve that is by telling a story.