Questions to elicit stories

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —December 19, 2006
Filed in Business storytelling

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation has produced an excellent little book called the Story Guide: Building Bridges Using Narrative Techniques. It’s filled with a range of techniques for collecting and using stories in an organisational setting. I’m a bit of a collector of questions so I was delighted to see their list of questions for finding stories.

“Tell me about a time when …” Tell me about a moment when …”

  • you or your project faced a dilemma in a project
  • you or your team experienced a significant turning point
  • you dealt with a real crisis on a project. What happened before, during and after it?
  • you felt really proud to be part of something
  • you took a real risk and it paid off or didn’t pay off
  • you were really inspired by what was going on around you
  • you encountered an obstacle and overcome it
  • you saw (one of your organisation’s values) really brought to life/being acted out
  • your partnerships were working really well
  • you saw positive changes happen as a result of your work

Colton, S., S. Ward, et al. (2006). Story Guide: Building Bridges Using Narrative Techniques, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:


  1. Shawn, this is a really great set of questions, but it got me to thinking (that’s what that grinding sound is) – how about other settings?
    The list above could apply to projects and/or business in general, but how about (for instance) a list of starter questions for different types of networking meetings: e.g., informal mixer, business contacts, etc.
    Carry the idea on for as many types of personal contact situations as possible and publish it as a guide for those of us who are, shall we say, “less than comfortable” in those settings.

  2. Good idea Robert. Do you have any suggestions?

  3. rhonda says:

    Shawn, this looks really useful for my current research in international development but could not find it on the website – any hints?

  4. Hi Rhonda, unfortuntately they don’t have an electronic version but you can request a copy by emailing them. I’m now looking around for my copy to find the email address, and do you think I can find it? I will keep looking. Perhaps someone else knows the email address? Ah, here it is:

  5. raj says:

    Shawn, I did search the SDC website but couldnt find a reference to the book. Nor could I find it on Amazon. Can I purchase this book from somewhere?

  6. Raj says:

    Thanks Jon! and Thanks Shawn for posting a separate post re this. If not for it, I would have surely missed this.

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