What happened to the SNE Essentials course for coaches and facilitators?

It has undergone a metamorphosis.

Instead of being a regular face to face course sign up for and pitch in person at some venue you spend hours looking for. This course is being turned into an online experience consisting of four components, the first of which is free of charge. Here are the components:

  • Component 1: Introduction to Strategic Narrative Embodiment – self paced online component that is free of charge – 6 Modules, 3 weeks.
  • Component 2:  STORI Strategy –  1 self paced online module plus three 90 min live online sessions where you learn and practice the the STORI design model for change – R 3 000 ($300 for non-Africans)
  • Component 3:  Applied Improvisation –  1 self paced online module plus three 90 min live online sessions where you learn and practice applied improvisation exercises for learning to be innovative and agile – R 3 000 ($300 for non-Africans)
  • Component 4: 1 final 90 min online session plus assignment and assessment for certification, also R 3 000.($300 for non-Africans)

The free self paced component will go live in April and the fee baring line online components will happen in September and October. You will have a choice of Wednesdays 7:30 pm to 9:00 pm or the repeat on Saturdays 9:30 am to 11:00 am. a minimum of 6 people must sign up for any of these times for it to be a viable group.

The first 12 people to complete the self paced module will receive R 1 500 ($150) discount on the rest of the course = R 7 500 instead of the full R 9 000 PLUS an extra R 500 ($50) as a bonus.

Send me an interest email now, and you will be the firs to get notified when it goes live!

You will receive a Wits University certificate of competence on completion of the course.

Strategic Narrative Embodiment (SNE) in a nutshell


SNE is inspired by the three elements of a story

Every story, fictional or real, consists of three elements:

  1. Someone who wants something
  2. Obstacles in their way
  3. An attempt to get what they want in spite of the obstacles.

Everybody wants something. It is what motivates them. Tapping into this motivation is important for every coach-facilitator. It is the key to engaging people in the work of sustainable change that is for the better (change for good). Every time you, as a coach or facilitator, enter into a relationship with a client, you start by clarifying what the client wants: their strategic intent. This is often informed by existing documents like value statements or strategic objectives. Once your mandate is clear, and you begin to work with the designated group or individual, you once again have to create a picture of the intent with the people in the room – including you as enabler of that intent. It sets the context for the work. Of paramount importance here is that this intent must be owned and influenced, or made sense of, by all stakeholders not only by the paying client. Everyone needs to be invested in the process.

From this point on, you embark on a journey together, led by the narrative design. You are attempting to get what you want together. You are living through a story, artfully shaped, but not controlled by you, the coach-facilitator. Along the way you and the delegates are going to encounter obstacles. However, because you are using embodied participation as your mode of enquiry, you are allowing an interaction between the narrative design and the embodied participation that mirrors reality. As delegates overcome the obstacles, they are practising for the times they will overcome them when they are back in the real world after the process is over.

Because you are working with a narrative design through embodied participation, you are also inviting into the space the stories about all the other times delegates have tried and failed to get what they want. In this way they are able to identify and reflect upon dominant and habitual narratives that may no longer be useful or practical. These are things that people believe or do in relation to the strategic intent that are not producing desired results but that they continue doing out of habit or conviction. The process is non-threatening and playful and allows delegates to experiment with alternative possibilities and solutions.

The SNE model

The diagram above shows the relationship between the narrative design of the workshop (represented by the horizontal process line) and a participant’s interaction with it through embodiment techniques (the vertical process line). The entire dynamic is contained by the original strategic intent of the workshop (the circle in the diagram). The centrifugal arrows indicate the new possibilities that are released when the unofficial, dominant or habitual narratives are fractured by the interaction between narrative design and embodied participation. The dotted and curved arrow indicates an emergent new narrative that arises as the more effective one in closing the gap between what delegates want (strategic intent) and what they have (embodied reality).

The strategic intent of SNE

SNE is designed for Shift, yet it believes that Shift is only possible in a particular way and because of how people open up to new ideas. It is informed by a particular learning philosophy and a certain understanding of how the brain works. For now, let us explain it by distinguishing SNE from other kinds of theatre-based learning systems like industrial theatre and storytelling skills or presentation skills

Usually when people hear we use drama or theatre processes in organisations, they immediately assume we do industrial theatre. We emphatically do not. Industrial theatre is like presentation skills, voice training and storytelling skills. All of them help people improve top-down communication from management to teams. SNE is designed to have multilevel, multi-stakeholder conversations in complex systems where leaders feel the need to hear from and listen to team members, where teams need to work together across functions and need to break down silos, and where collaboration, innovation and new direction is sought.

SNE is good for strategic planning, relationship selling, customer service, vision and values alignment and leadership development. It is great for organisation development and innovation, team development and facilitator training, but only in forward-thinking organisations where employee engagement, collaboration and a flattening of hierarchy are important themes. SNE addresses systemic problems and works on the level of relationships. It can address embodied reality, behaviour and action and move beyond words, ideas and dreams.

SNE is designed to close the gap between what we want and what we have, what we say and what we do.

We need new moves to move our people

The fall of Babylon; Cyrus the Great defeating the Chaldean

The need for story and embodiment in leadership training and development

In a VUCA world that is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous, where change is increasing exponentially, people feel overwhelmed, unsafe and resistant to more change. Their brains react with threat responses: wanting either to fight (I will not comply), flee (I will avoid it) or freeze (I don’t know what to do), and so we disconnect (Leave me alone).

Yet as organisational development practitioner, coach, change manager, leader and facilitator, you know that shift is not just inevitable, it is desirable. How do you get your people to shift with the shifting times?

In order to thrive in such a world we need to be more adaptive, innovative, engaged and integrated. To achieve this, the brain must function optimally, not in survival mode but in creative mode.

Yet audiences, trainees, participants and teams have become more and more distracted, demanding and opinionated. Some are resistant to new input and tired of change. Others want highly customised, personalised and individually relevant input.

We need new moves to move the people we serve.

Lectures where information is simply transmitted, like feel-good motivational talks, and games like paintball and potjiekos competitions (team cook-ups), all lack one or both of the essential ingredients for programmes that maximise the potential for shifting your clients or participants. These two essential ingredients are learning design and creative participation.

Learning design is the art of turning information into a carefully sequenced and well-crafted learning experience. Here the content does not dictate the design, but the facilitator decides how best to shape the content so that people accept it. Often stories, pictures, audio-visual stimuli, like props and videos and interactive techniques, are employed to unfold the material and enliven the presentation. Speakers, trainers and teachers who add this component to their material significantly increase the potential for shift to happen, since it creates more brain connections for participants and draws them into the ‘story in the room’ (the content presented).

Creative participation is the art of creating structures that invite participants to contribute their ideas, thoughts and actions to the material. This kind of experiential process allows participants to bring their own ingenuity to the conversation and discover tacit knowledge that they did not know they had. Programmes and interventions that use games, interactive processes, conversations and liberating structures also greatly enhance the potential for shift, since people are able to connect their own stories to the story in the room.

With the explosion of the internet, everyone can be an expert, everyone can personalise and customise their programmes, profiles and preferences and everyone can choose what information they want to allow in their headspace. In addition, given the shaky state of world economies and the uncertainty created by political shifts and health threats, people are increasingly weary of solutions that would waste money or cause more uncertainty.


Old-fashioned lecturing does not work any more. On the one hand, lectures are content-driven and the content dictates the design and flow of the presentation. On the other hand, the content tries to be a one-size-fits-all solution that is not customisable and adaptable for every individual particularity. Furthermore, lectures do not leverage the power of human connection and emotion as a way to drive messages home and make them ‘stickable’.


Motivational speakers liven up presentations by turning them into more of a show. Through showmanship they artfully present their content using stories, emotion and clever presentational gimmicks like props, visual aids and performance skills. In addition, motivational speakers are high-impact but low in time investment. And while the really good speakers are expensive for the time they put in, a once-off payment is still cheaper than a process that unfolds over time and consumes both time and money.

Yet traditional motivational speakers cannot bring about shift that lasts. They get a high rating from people attending their talks, but a very low rating in terms of creating real shift. What is lacking is the ability to help people connect their own individual stories to the story in the room. A grand show still offers a one-size-fits-all solution that cannot shift the individual. Many may enjoy it, but only 5% will experience something like shift.


Team-building exercises and gamification programmes step into this gap by offering game-like solutions. A game is not meaning-driven, it is structure-driven. Within the confines of the game, people have some control to manipulate the rules to their advantage. A game can be individualised. A physical game, like soccer, is also good for connecting people and building relationships, something that often enhances emotional connection by awakening competitiveness or by leveraging people’s feeling of belonging. However, unless games are structured around meaning that can bring about change, people often leave a team-building experience feeling ‘warm and fuzzy’ but without a lasting shift that will be seen in the workplace.


If lectures, shows and games do not offer lasting solutions that can bring about shift, there must be a fourth option – and that is a solution we simply term Shift. For Shift to occur the talk, workshop or intervention must both be designed for learning to happen and involve participants’ creative participation. This means there is maximum potential for understanding the material as well as for participants to apply it to their own contexts and contribute to creating meaning and significance.

When you want to increase the potential for Shift to happen, story-strategy helps you retain perspective of the big picture while improvisation skills help you navigate your actions in the moment. Between the two, you create the conditions for Shift in the lives of your team members, workshop participants, customers, employees and, of course, yourself.

Join the next Strategic Narrative Embodiment training course

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Triggers, curious questions, and judgement –

OD practitioners making a circle

Reflections on the IODA/Flourish conference in Stellenbosch 6-8 Sep 2017

I am posting this one day earlier than usual so that the conference goers who may read it can do so before they hit the bustle and business of Monday’s return to work.

  • Trust me to make mistakes
  • Trust me to make them boldly
  • Trust me to reflect on them (if I am liucky enough to spot them)
  • Trust me to say I am sorry
  • Trust me to make the same mistake again.



This post may trigger you, provoke some confusing feelings or cause you to judge me or some of the others in the story. I apologise if it doesn’t.

Reflections on the IODA/Flourish conference in Stellenbosch 6-8 Sep 2017

Day 1, Episode 1

It is the session before lunch. We are facilitated through a process of visioning. The method includes systems mapping and embodiment .Three quarters in, after mapping the problems concerning diversity in our organisations, we are asked to take a position that expresses our desire for the future of OD (organisation development). The large majority of people go into kumbaya mode: holding hands, or standing arms on each other’s shoulders in a circle. I don’t want to be locked into this picture, and I don’t want to be separate from the group, so I stand against the circle where people are clumping and packing themselves tight in order to get into the circle. Accross from us the circle is thin and people are reaching across furniture unable to reach each other’s hands. The woman behind me nudges me and tells me to go and help them. I say “no thank you, I like it here.” She accepts it.

We reflect on our experience and I tell my reflecting partner (call him X) how I did not want to conform and how I am very weary of being peer pressured into conformity as an answer to dealing with diversity. . He tells me to ask myself a curious question about my response. Immediately I am triggered. I feel irritated by his remark. I notice the feeling, and do not react on it.

Day 2, Episode 2

It is the last session of the day – an integration session meant to help us all reflect on our experiences of the day. It is set up as a thinking space. It starts and ends at specific times and we all sit in a circle, but there is no other structure. Anyone may speak about an experience or where they are at. I am one of three new people in the group. The others had all come to this same integration session the day before.

There is silence and a few contributions. Then one participant, call her A) reflects: “I would have liked to build on what we did yesterday, but I do not want to exclude the new people. So I am saying nothing.” One of the new people say that she came precisely because she heard yesterday was so meaningful, and did not want to derail the flow of that. I say I don’t mind if they pick up from the day before, I did not mean to intrude. Participant A responds: “I did not mean for my words to make you feel like intruders.” I smile and respond: “So, by trying not to exclude us, you made us feel like intruders?” Immediately another participant (B) cuts in: “That is your interpretation.” “Yes, I own that.” I say, and again I feel triggered in the same way as the day before.

I notice my response and sit with the feeling, stewing, while others offer more contributions. When there is another lull, I say: “May I say something uncomfortable?” Having obtained permission, I say: “I have been triggered the same way a few times now and I want to talk about it.” I explain how B’s remark irritated me. “The phrase ‘that’s your interpretation’ made me feel shut down and like my interpretation was invalid. We judge judgment with phrases like ‘that’s your opinion/interpretation as if we have a choice as humans not to judge. Judging is what humans do. I did not mean to be judgmental, though, I meant to summaries what I heard A say – yes, offer a perspective and therefore a judgment, an interpretation.’ I saw some vigorous nodding from others in the room. There were a few more remarks and the session ended.

Day 3, Episode 3

We are 5 women in a van on the way to a site visit. One from Chilli, four South Africans – two coloured, 1 black and 1 white (me). Yes, I name the races because race plays a role in every South African story. The black woman is sharing an experience in a session the day before. She tells how the presenter said in a passing remark “we all learned these things in Grade 8.” The black woman tells how she put up her hand and said that we cannot assume that everyone here did Grade 8, or that they learned the same things.”

After the session, while she was reflecting and writing in her journal, one of the white participants came to her with her ‘coachy-coachy voice” saying “My colleague and I are curious about what you said. You seem so angry. We wonder why you offered such an unproductive remark. Would you like to talk about it?”(My paraphrasing). The black woman felt irritated at the interruption and even more irritated by the sense of judgement coming from the woman. She responded that she did not want to talk about it. The women renewed her invitation saying that they are available if she changed her mind.

The next day (day3), the white women’s colleague approached her, the black women. Again she was interrupted by the white woman while she was in an engaging conversation with someone else. Again she was invited to talk and again she declined. Sitting in the van we all talked about how we use the phrase ‘I am curious” as a judgement, instead of being truly authentic and curious. We also talked about white people’s need to understand what black people mean and how they try to avoid discomfort, requiring black people not to rock the boat.

Judging is what people do. Everyone’s judgement is a valid perspective. Our judgements are informed by our experiences and they are our stories. As coaches and facilitators our job is not to judge judgement, but to accept every contribution as a contribution. We have only two kinds of curious questions that are useful:

  1. The kind you ask yourself of your own triggers. What has made me feel this way? Act this way?
  2. The kind that is genuinely interested in another’s point of view, authentically asked because you really do not know.

We cannot use curious questions to be helpful to someone else and in the process judging their judgement as being judgemental.

Graphic of White work and black work

Note to white people:

For heaven’s sake do not interrupt black people, it is rude. When you do talk to them, do not do so in order to make them explain themselves so you can understand. It is not their job to help you with your fragility. If black people always have to explain themselves and in doing so be careful not to upset you, they will never be free to voice their experience, tell their stories and air their judgements. Go and do your own questioning and reflecting, that is your work, not theirs. Also, dear white people do not try to understand everything black people say, our attempts to understand are too often renewed attempts to control. While you are at it, don’t do any of these things to anyone else. If you do, reflect, say you’re sorry and try again. You will fail often, but don’t stop trying.

Thank you to the two coloured women for enabling the space for this conversation, for your compassion and contributions in the discussion. Thank you too for your humour. Without you, it could not have been possible.

Thank you to the Chilean women for your silent witnessing and curious attention that contributed to the holding of the space.

Thank you to participants x, A, B and the black woman for helping me see clearly what I only saw vaguely before.

We are united in our brokenness.

How can we vehemently disagree and still remain good friends, colleagues or neighbours?

You are invited to catch flying pigs with us

Long time pig catcher Alison Gitelson will be facilitating.

Face to face Pig Catching in Johannesburg
TOPIC: How can we vehemently disagree and still remain good friends, colleagues or neighbours?
DATE: Fri 24 Feb
TIME: 7:15 am to 10:30 am – experience
10:45am – 12:00 reflecting on the methodology
Please come on time for coffee or tea, we start at 7:30 sharp.
PLACE: 305 Long Avenue Ferndale
DRESS: Comfortable clothes you can stretch and move in
Coffee, tea, muffins and fruit on arrival.
Contact us to book

Online Pig Catching
TOPIC: How can we vehemently disagree and still remain good friends, colleagues or neighbours?
DATE:13, 15 and 22 Mar (Mon, Wed and Wed)
TIME: 20:00-21:15 – experience
PLACE: a ZOOM room (we will send link)
COST: R250 or $20
RSVP by Wed 8 Mar to

More on the topic

Much is said and written about finding alignment; harmonizing; finding the win-win; integrating; being a happy family. What happens if we don’t agree? Why should we agree? Few things are simply right or wrong: there are multiple perspectives, multiple truths and even many different ways to achieve the same result.

The more diverse the group the more likely there will be disagreements. And that is part of the benefit of diversity. It takes us away from group think. This article explains how diversity makes us smarter.
However the reality is often an illusion of agreement on the surface with bubbling resentment underneath.

Let’s explore how we can use SNE (Strategic Narrative Embodiment) to discover our individual ways to
handle disagreement;

  • give and receive feedback;
  • feel curious instead of threatened;
  • be open to other perspectives;
  • be assertive without aggression;
  • have the courage to tackle the tough stuff!

My hope is that we will find tools we can use to help our clients and communities.
 – by Alison Gitelson who will be co-hosting Pig Catching sessions in February and March.

About Pig Catching

Pig catching is what coaches and facilitators do when we chase the moment of insight that brings shift and transformation in our clients.
Please note: No pigs get harmed, our pigs are purely metaphorical and they have wings.


Coaches, facilitators, game changers, thought leaders like you who can accept the following
1        This is not a showcase or sales event geared to impress or win you over. If you come, you already believe that metaphor, embodiment, improvisation and imagination are powerful, fun ways to bring about transformation and you want to know more about using them in coaching and facilitation.
2        Experimentation and mistakes are part of the process.  You must be willing to play with ideas that may not work or may be a bit uncomfortable, but that could lead to new heights of freedom and insight.

Join our group on Facebook:
About  Alison Gitelson (her words)

I am a maximizer, facilitator and management enabler.  Similar to many of you.
In 2006, after twenty years in business and careers in optometry, IT and transformation, I started CanBeeDone to help individuals be the best they can be, and managers to become much, much better managers and leaders. Today I describe what I do as “working with leader-managers to find their new and better way of doing business so that they, their staff and the business all thrive”.
Over the years I have grown my talents and my toolbox as a facilitator. I met Petro in 2013. Each time I was at an event where she facilitated using applied improv games I was as nervous as anything when we started. But each time I was excited at the outcomes: at the power of the tool for discovering one’s own answers and for changing behaviour. So I began introducing AI games into my programmes. I combined them with the sharing of concepts and theories, having focused dialogue and doing other participative exercises. Then in November 2014 I did the Essentials in SNE three day course with Petro.

Since then I have incorporated SNE (strategic narrative embodiment) tools and techniques into most of my workshops, talks and programmes; combining them with my other tools. It enhances work which was already powerful and makes it uniquely me.

I’ve worked with groups as diverse as high school pupils, introverted coaching clients, middle and senior managers, illiterate community members and IT technicians.
I have plenty to learn and plenty of areas where I am still working out how best to use SNE to bring about the shifts we need in society and in business. Hence my wish that you will join me to learn and grow at this Pig Catching. And then perhaps at another session we can help you experiment with some of your ideas.”


Contact us to book

Join our group on Facebook:

More Story-Strategy for trainers and facilitators (and coaches)

shutterstock_72734719A good workshop design, like a good story:

S      helps people see their Situation in a new light and Summons them to new possibilities

T       Guides them across a Threshold full of Terrors—Facing their fears

     Provides Obstacles  and OBSTACLES as they journey through tests that challenge skill and paradigms.

R       Rewards their bravery and hear their commitments as they Return to their work-life.

      Supports them in Integrating their learning into their Identity so they transform their world.

…     Remembers that the story never ends and that no facilitator can completely control another’s journey.

For more detail on this model click here.

The success of trusted workshop processes lie in their ability to guide participants successfully across the two thresholds.  First from their current situation through the barrier of their resistance and fear into the landscape of your workshop filled with insights, theories and skills development. Secondly over the threshold back to their own realities armed with new tools, skills and understanding with which to face their recurring patterns of thinking.

Most workshop processes are really good at helping people cross the first threshold. Few get the second threshold crossed successfully. That is because most of us do not have the luxury to remain with our clients as they return to work or life. If you can offer them a coaching programme, or some kind of follow-up support system online, you have a better chance.

But what if you could cross this threshold In the Workshop?

Play it out in a safe space

Applied theatre processes like Applied Improvisation, Theatre for the Oppressed, Embodied Reflective Practice and Theatre for Development all use the power of embodiment and action to help people ‘rehearse for their futures’ (Augusto Boal). By using processes that require people to play out the learning, they get the opportunity to try out new ways of being in a safe environment before they have to go back into the ‘real’ world.

Play it out with your whole body, brain, heart and guts

Applied theatre processes also involve the whole of a person: not just the whole brain, but also the whole heart, body and gut feelings. As if this is not enough, it also involves a community: learning with others. The doing, playing, laughing interacting and learning that happens when people play together helps to access more parts of a human being and creates more opportunities for deep learning on core value level.

This is one of the main reasons that Applied Improvisation is taking off as a leading- edge workshop methodology and why it works so well with Story-Strategy (as summarised by the STORI… model) for designing workshops. The way in which both AI and Story-Strategy can navigate participants across the first and second thresholds  is also the reason why coaches find Applied Improvisation such a handy set of skills and tools and why Story-Strategy help them to structure their coaching programmes. Coaching itself functions to lead people over both thresholds, but especially the second one.

Catch Playing Mantis and Raymond van Driel at the Applied Improvisation Network’s annual conference in Austin Texas!!

You might also be interested in:

S.T.O.R.I… – A strategy using story principles for Trainers and Facilitators

P.L.A.Y.! – A summary of Improvisation principles for Trainers and Facilitators

Podcast interview with Petro Janse van Vuuren (PhD) on Story-Strategy.

Podcast interview with Raymond van Driel on AI and the PLAY! model.

Trainer workshops in South Africa, click here.

Coaching contact Petro in Johannesburg, Burgert in Cape Town and Raymond in the Netherlands.

The Applied Improvisation Network Click here.

AIN conference Train the trainer workshop Click here.

S.T.O.R.I… – A strategy using story principles for Trainers and Facilitators

AIN BannerWhile both improvisation and facilitation works best when the process and the outcome is open-ended, this does not mean it cannot be structured. How many times have you heard a facilitator or trainer say ‘trust the process’. One of the most important reasons for this trust is that, if the right ingredients are in the room, insight, transformation and learning is inevitable.

The S.T.O.R.I… model summarizes these necessary elements and demystifies the enigma of the process.

In recent years much has been written about the structure of myth. If you have read the Bible, or studied Greek mythology, or heard fairy tales from your grandmother, studied some Shakespeare at school, or just seen a few Hollywood films, you would recognize this structure right away. It is the dramatic structure underlying almost all stories and serves the purpose of taking the main character in the story on a journey of self discovery and personal growth.  Through identification with the hero the reader or spectator can learn about life. And gain understanding into their own journey.

If you use these same elements, your trainees or workshop participants can also undergo their own journey as you structure the learning process according to these principles. But just in case you think this will be a revelation, you will probably see that your process already follows this structure. That is because the structure of myth simply follows the pattern through which the human brain naturally opens up to new ideas.  Your trusted process works because these elements were probably already there. Only now you can identify them and be more intentional in planning them.

Below is a summary of the story stages.

In the mean time, if you are coming to the Applied Improvisation Network’s annual conference; we will be working with this model and the principles of Applied Improvisation to present to you a three day Train the Trainer workshop so you too can add more interaction, creativity and ZING when you train and facilitate.

Here the S.T.O.R.I… model

S       Situation and a Summons—Call to Adventure

Every participant comes into your training room with his/her own current reality or situation. Your workshop in some way has promised them something that can get them unstuck or propel them forward. It presents to them a summons. Every trusted process helps people see their current situation in a new light so that they feel summoned to new possibilities.

T       Threshold full of Terrors—Facing the guardians

And just as they begin to play and engage, they become fearful of what others may think, or of what would happen if they made a mistake. Especially in Applied Improvisation, the facilitator needs to take great care in creating a safe to fail space so that these giants of inhibition and fear can be vanquished. Trusted processes involve various exercises and techniques that help people feel safe with each other and the facilitator.

     Obstacles and OBSTACLES—The Journey

Every trusted training process involves games and exercises that stretch participants beyond what is comfortable. They provide tests and trials, or challenges that develop skill and insight. Yet these are only the obstacles (no capital letters). Yet all these activities are metaphors for the OBSTACLES (capital letters). These are the mindsets and paradigms that keep participants from breaking into new ways of thinking and doing. The trusted process seems simple on the outside, but brings participants to the brink of self transformation.

R       Reward and Return—Committing to face the reverent

When participants break through their paradigms, they typically come face to face with their own restrictive mindsets, their nemesis. Successful recognition of these brings reward and awakens a need in participants to commit to something new. The trusted process builds into it some kind of reward system and opportunity for people to make personal commitments. These serve to motivate them to return to their current realities where the old mindsets might rise again like reverent ghosts returning to haunt them.

      Integrating a new Identity—Transforming your world

No process is complete unless it supplies a follow up programme that can support people back in their work-life contexts to remember what they experienced during their adventure with you. All participants need support to integrate their learning into their way of being, their identities.

‘…‘   And the story never ends

Then just as you worry that only one or two people from your workshop really shifts, or that a single 3 hour training programme cannot possibly accomplish such deep transformation, you remember that the story never ends. While you can design and structure your workshop as a story, each participant is on their own journey over which you have no control. Their journeys might have to take them back to a threshold to vanquish more fear giants, or to face another shadow that returns to haunt them. Your only job is to be open to where people are in their journeys and support them by designing a worthwhile adventure.

If it is not happy, it is not the ending. And if it is happy, it is a new beginning. Petro Janse van Vuuren

Catch Playing Mantis and Raymond van Driel at the Applied Improvisation Network’s annual conference in Austin Texas!!

For train the trainer workshops in South Africa, click here.

OR contact Petro in Johannesburg, Burgert in Cape Town and Raymond in the Netherlands.

For more info on The Applied Improvisation Network Click here.

For more info on the AIN conference Train the trainer workshop Click here.



Cosmic resistance – When the world is against me

Emmet from the Lego movieYou have lead your audience past four types of resistance: 1. their doubts and reservations about their own suitability (Personal resistance), whether or not they can trust you (Relational resistance), the practicality of the solution (Practical resistance) and the people that would be on the journey with them (Social resistance). Now they look at their context and go: “Great plan, but life just doesn’t work that way”.  They look at their reality and say: “What if the solution or the people having to implement it fail?” I call this cosmic resistance.

Cosmic resistance is what happens when everything is lined up to go and your budget is cut, or a key player gets sick and unable to continue, or the equipment simply fails. Through no fault of yours, or the people trying to make the difference, it just fails. What then?

In stories this is that devastating moment where all seems lost. This is when Andy Dufresne, in Shawshank Redemption learns that his eye witness was murdered by the prison warden, when Brave Heart is betrayed by one of his own, when, in The Great Escape, the fleeing prisoners discover that their tunnel is a few feet short of the cover of the trees.

In situations like these stories provide only one response: Reframe.

The Blonde goes to the doctor complaining of aches all over her body. “Where does it hurt?” The doctor asks. Pointing to her left shoulder, then her nose and then her right calf she answers: “Here and here and here”. The doctor takes her hand gently examining it and says “My dear, your finger is broken.”

This is a reframe: when the perspective is shifted from the detail to the big picture.

The following is a story structure to help your client or participants create their own reframe.. It comes from the world of Applied Improvisation.

Step 1. Reflect on an issue in your personal or professional life that you would really like to change. Complete the following sentence:

Concerning this issue, I really want  … (fill in what it is that you want to see happen).

But… (list one to 3 things that are in the way of you achieving this outcome – things that are blocking or frustrating your efforts).

Step 2. Cross out the ‘But’ and replace it with the word ‘and’. Now the obstacles become mere conditions for the solution, they are no longer blocks.

Step 3. Complete a final sentence:

So what if … (what alternatives can you think of that accepts the conditions for the solution.)

Anexample from a workshop participant:

As the event co-ordinator of a large networking evening, I really want my guests to feel at home and set the scene for a wonderful event. I also want to enjoy the event myself.

But  AND I am not a good speaker, my hands shake and I am afraid I will forget important information. I stress so much that the whole evening is a blur usually.

So what if I rehearse a short welcoming speech to set the scene and then get an MC to co-ordinate the rest of the event, so I can sit back and enjoy it.

When all is lost, it is time for a reframe. A story that beautifully illustrates this reframe is the recent Lego movie. All seems lost when Emmet, the main character fall into the void, the abyss. His friends believe he is dead and their cause seems lost. In fact, Emmet simply falls off the table where the humans build their lego models. He is picked up by the boy playing there and from this big picture perspective Emmet’s entire world is reframed. With this insight he returns to save the day.

Reframing one’s failures and see them from a fresh angle can break through cosmic resistance.

In conclusion

It may seem as though a coach or facilitator needs to break through all five types of resistance before the learning can start. This is a deception: it is the very process of breaking through the different kinds of resistance itself that brings about learning and change. Once all five are eliminated around one particular idea, that idea had been accepted – learned.

What of applying the idea?

If you present and use talking to break through all the resistances, yes, then you have but pointed the way and your clients must still walk the path for themselves. But, if you coach and facilitate your way through then, the client is the one breaking through and the shift is not yours, but theirs. Though every new idea may need a new cycle of break through and it may feel like you are going in circles – it is each cycle of the wheel that makes the vehicle, and the client, move.

Need a coach?Contact Petro in Johannesburg or Burgert in Cape Town

Interested in a course in facilitation and coaching? Click here

Looking for an interactive session to ad ZING to  your event? Contact us.




Easing past social resistance

Who is in this with me?

Do I fit in?

EeyoreEvery coaching client or participant wants to know:  am I alone in this? Many times somewhere in a coaching session a client would ask something like: “Is it just me who have these issues?” or “I sometimes wonder of my situation is more messed up than other people’s”. Just yesterday one asked me: “Do other women also struggle with the fact that their male colleagues are allowed to rant and rave and get all emotional, but as women they get patronised when they get upset?”.

In facilitations, it is often feedback like: “we discovered that our problems are very similar” or “i am so glad I am not alone in this”, that helps the facilitator know that social resistance is breaking down. Yet, this is not one you can give a single blow and be done with, it can take some people a long time to feel part of a group. This type of resistance must be gently worked on throughout a coaching session or a facilitation.

In the Lord of the Rings Frodo has learned that he is chosen (breaking through personal resistance) he has learned that he can trust Gandalf  (relational resistance) and he has heard the plan (practical resistance). Now he trembles as he almost accepts his duty…”So I must go to Mordor and deliver this ring into the fires that created it. And I must go alone…” But Gandalf surprises him. The wizard gets up, opens the door and brings in Samwise who had been eavesdropping the entire time. Neither Samwise nor Frodo can believe their good fortune when Gandalf informs them that Samwise must accompany Frodo. Sam is thrilled because of the promise of adventure, Frodo is thrilled because he would not be alone.

Samwise becomes Frodo’s loyal companion and it is thanks to him that Frodo finally manages to achieve the objective. We all need loyal support when we accept a new idea, try out a new habit or open up to a new perspective. But there are other social forces too that are needed to make sure we succeed and we must work on all of them throughout a process. I will share six of them with you here. Note that they work together in pairs.

1. The Sidekick and the Sceptic

Samwise is an example of the Sidekick – someone usually in the same peer group as the hero (the hero is of course your audience member). It can help to tell a story or produce a testimonial from someone like them who has gone through a similar problem as them and successfully made it through.  It is even more powerful if you can let people in a team coaching session or facilitation share stories and they become each others’ supporters. Like Piglet for Winnie the Pooh it is important that people are supported unquestioningly and with positivity. Yet opposite piglet sits Eeyore…

Sceptics who end up succeeding provide the most powerful success stories. A sceptic’s voice is even more powerful when he/she is of a higher status than the general status of your audience: if their boss’s is willing to share their own story of struggle, it can be an especially meaningful experience for participants, especially of this person really struggled to accept a certain truth or perspective that may be useful for their learning. Piglets bring positivity into a room, but Eeyores bring gravity and credibility.  What would it mean to my client who asked the question about men and women in the workplace if she could talk to an influencail woman leader about her frustrations? Especially if it was also someone who were sceptical about voicing her thoughts out loud at first, but had begun to speak out?

2. Emotion and Reason

People need to know that they will be both emotionally and mentally accepted into the fold. They need to feel good about participating and be able to satisfy their logic. If both Tigger and Owl support take part, they will be likely to accept it too. Ever wondered why advertisements either use sex appeal or scientific proof to make their point? Your case is doubly stronger if you can do both. This is why so many presentations use either a celebrity or a professor’s quote or story to strengthen an idea.

In both coaching and facilitation it is important to strike a careful balance so that you make room for emotions and listen to them, but also provide models and structures for the brain to make sense of the learning.  It is, for instance, important for me to allow my client to explore both the feelings and logic around the different behaviour of men and women in the workplace. Focussing on feelings may make her feel that her experiences were only emotional and not also logical. Focussing on the logic could cause her not to deal with her emotions around it and keep her from reflecting on it rationally and come up with solutions.

3. The Guide and Contagonist 

When all is said and done, you as the guide will be inviting the audience into your peer group. They need to like and  trust you and they need to know if you like and trust them. But is extremely important in coaching and facilitation that you are careful to applaud or judge too readily. Because your status is very high, your response can cloud your clients’ reading of his or her own inner responses – inner responses that are essential for the long term success of your processes. Grateful acceptance of absolutely any contribution is vital so that people do not clam p and put up their defences once more.

You as Guide face the opposite energy of the Contagonist. These are people or ideas that will distract, tempt and confuse your audience. Your job is to guide them through these possible misunderstandings, distortions and false solutions that may be hidden in the ideas that arise in the process you are facilitating. Failing to do so will leave people vulnerable to failure, but will also leave the process open to criticism.  How you deal with distractions and confusing ideas is important to keep the faith of those who want to follow you through the woods to deeper insight and wisdom.

sometimes it may be important for you take a strong stand against interruptions and unmask them as disruptive threatening to highjack the process that people are on. How you handle such interruptions can greatly influence the levels of resistance in your audience.

But be careful, for seven whole volumes Harry Potter distrusted and suspected Severus Snape, but Snape ended up playing a vital role in saving both Hogwarts and Harry from destruction.  After Harry heard his true story,  sadly a little too late, Harry named one of his own sons after him. Like sceptic’s sometimes make the best witnesses, distractions can sometimes turn out to hold the best solutions.

My client’s question of earlier was the very kind of distraction I am talking about. We were just at the end of our session about how she could be more assertive in meetings and not so disengaged. My first reaction was to think that this question had nothing to do with anything until I realised that, in fact, it was at the core of her disengagement. Rather than risking becoming upset in meetings and be labelled as over emotional woman, she was checking out. The session went to a much deeper level after that.

When you can welcome loyal supporters, sceptics, emotion, reason and valuable distractions into the room, while at the same time modulating your own applause or judgement and handling negative distractions, you have reached the pinnacle of your career as coach and facilitator. This is indeed an art. The better you are at it, the less resistance there is in the room.

Of course, you can stack up all of your tricks to help people move past resistance and then a hand goes up at the back and they ask: So what is the plan? How will this work?  That is when you face practical resistance . More on this next time.

For more on the archetypes google Dramatica.

Click here to get more training in facilitation and coaching through Story-Strategy and Applied Improvisation




How to Communicate Confidently

Grow your voice book cover

“A voice is a human gift; it should be cherished and used, to utter fully human speech. Powerlessness and silence go together.” – Margaret Atwood, Writer

I learned the secret of confident speaking when I was 16. I was performing before a judges’ panel at the Stellenbosch Eisteddfod. The category I was performing in? Poetry. The poem? ‘Die Dag op Nuweland’ – a satire by Jeanne Goosen about a typical South African rugby match, a day at Cape Town’s Newlands rugby stadium.

The judges had already heard me perform, but they had called me back to do it again. As I stood there I had no idea why.

Since I was 11 I had taken part in speech and drama classes and competitions. This was the first time I saw the judges requesting a repeat and, believe me, I had been at many of these competitions.

Were they thinking it had been so great that it must have been a fluke and they wanted to see whether I could do it again? Did they not like my performance? Had I failed so miserably that they wanted to give me a second chance?

I remember deciding to forget why, and to give it my best shot.

I also remember doing two very specific things during my second performance.

First, I looked straight in their direction, fixing my gaze on them and unveiling my eyes so that they could see into my soul. Fearlessly, I allowed them to see what I saw in the words.

Second, I remember matching that unveiling of my intention with my voice.

I took the first words: “Hoera Boland en Haak Vrystaat!”

It was as if I had the ball tucked in the crook of my arm, was aiming at the goal line and pumping my legs, running free, fast and furious.

My voice was controlled by my breath, supported by a rock hard diaphragm, allowing it to resonate in a completely relaxed chest cavity, while the muscles in and around my mouth clearly and carefully shaped each word as I followed the rhythm and melody of the poem.

I did not allow tension or fear to show, and not once did I let nerves and uncertainty interfere with my voice.

As I drew the performance to a close, I held the attention in silence for a moment and then broke off my gaze. The audience was quiet for moment and then one of the judges stood up and began to clap. The rest of the audience followed with thunderous applause (well, thunderous for the twenty-odd people who were there for their own children’s performances). It was the first time I received 100% for a performance. I had cracked the secret of pulling an audience into the performance as opposed to bombarding them with it.

Here is the thing: I could only guess at where the judges sat and whether I was looking them in the eyes or not.

You see, I am partially sighted, I cannot look anyone in the eye without faking it. I have no central vision (I call it doughnut vision because all the good stuff is on the sides with just a hole in the middle). If I look straight at anyone, I cannot see them. This can either cause me to look blank and unreceptive, or I can choose to look straight at them and not see them, but unveil my eyes and let them see into my soul.

This is a trick I had learned long before, so that the cute, cruel boys in grade 5 would not call me Crossed Eyes. Unmasked authenticity is disarming, intriguing, rare and memorable.

But once the audience is inside, they must find something there that is worthwhile and meaningful, something that is powerful and promising, especially if they are to be part of it. This is where your voice and your message come into the picture.

At my poetry performance of ‘Die Dag op Nuweland’, I learned to match that pull of the unveiled soul with a voice that did the same, but this time with something worthwhile to offer in return. Drawing the audience into how you see things invites them into a world set apart from their own.

If that world is inviting and engaging, they are moved by the confidence you have in your message and material. This is the opposite of what most people think communication is about. Most people think it is about getting the message across the big divide between you and someone else. They think it is about throwing it out there and hoping it will hit the mark.

It is not about throwing the message out, but about drawing the audience in.

A speaker’s voice must invite confidence and instil trust, while at the same time it commands attention and motivates the audience.

A voice that is both inviting and influential possesses certain physical qualities. Most voices do not have these qualities naturally. Yet, with knowledge and practice you too can cultivate this kind of voice.

As with training for the Comrades marathon (89 km between Durban and Pietermaritzburg), your body needs to unlearn bad habits and relearn new ones. When you train for a marathon, you need to teach your muscles to persist working under strain. You have to condition them so that adjusting to the road and the conditions becomes automatic and you can keep your mind on your goal.

“If you don’t ever stop singing, your voice stays in shape. It’s like the marathon runner. You’ve got to run, run, run to stay in shape.” – Sammy Hagar, Musician

Similarly, speaking invitingly and confidently with a trained voice can become automatic so that you can keep your mind on the message and the audience.

To replace unwanted habits with new ones takes at least six weeks of dedicated hard work. This course is designed to lead you through such a six-week training programme so that the vocal habits you need for confident, inviting communication becomes automatic.

Grow your voice is a six-week course designed to help you automatically

• find a good posture that helps you relax and communicate confidence

• use breath to control your voice and your nerves

• produce a rich, warm voice that invites attention and instils trust

• shape sounds skilfully so that every word is heard without strain

• create emotional engagement by enticing the listener to keep on listening.

“It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” – Mark Twain

You have just read the introduction to my book: Grow your voice to Speak with Confidence. The book is a 6 week course and includes a training CD with exercises.

Click here if you would like to buy the book.

Come to one of our workshops or courses.

Or contact me for individual coaching options.

Dr. Petro Janse van Vuuren