Story exchange


  •  To turn a personal story into one that influences the group culture
  •  To allow people to connect deeply with each other and themselves around things that matter.
  • To illustrate the idea of filtering
  • To give each person the gift of their own story seen through the eyes of others.
  • To tease out conversation about ownership and responsibility

Overview: In pairs participants share a story where they experienced flow/fulfillment. Participants then exchange stories and retell each others stories as their own to new partners. After 3 exchanges participants share the stories in the large group.

Time: 25 min

Number of participants: 6-12  (if the group is of an uneven number, you can join them)

Game flow

For the participants For the facilitator
Choose an object that you can identify as your own e.g. pen/ sunglasses/ note book/ ear ring etc. Hold it in your hand. This object is just something to help you manage the game. Each person’s story will be symbolized by the object that they own.
Think of a moment in your life when you experienced an ‘aha-moment’. You can adapt the question any way you like, but keep it about something positive and inspiring e.g. a moment where you felt fulfilled at work etc.
In pairs tell each other your story. Time participants for 2 min each. Warn them ahead of time about the time constraint.. Give them a half time warning and count them down from 10 sec.
Swop objects with your partner.  This is the object you chose earlier and  is a representative of your story. Your partner now holds your story, and you hold theirs.  
Find new partners and this time tell the story of the person whose object you hold in your hand as if it is your own. Tell it in the first person. You can choose to let them say who they are , or you can ask them deliberately not to reveal whose story they hold. Play with it and see what you like best in what situation.
Swop objects again, find new partners and repeat the process a third time. Make sure people do not end up with someone holding their own story. The objects help people sort this out.
Swop objects for the last time. This time do not find other partners, you will share this last story you heard with the entire group as your own in the first person. IF people know each other well, it is fun to let them imitate the mannerisms of the person whose story they hold. This only works, of course, if you chose to let them reveal the identity of the people as objects are swopped.


What was this exercise like for you?

Who do the stories belong to?

What was it like to get your own story back after it was filtered by the group? r

Let them write down what theylearned about themselves and the group from this exercise.


Thank each other for taking care of the stories and for the gift of giving it back in a new package.

Tips and variations

  1. IT is not always useful to do the writing exercise, it depends on where and why you use the strategy.
  2. In a very large group, divide them into smaller groups of 6. In the final round people will be hearing their own stories back to themselves if they did not swop outside the group of six.
  3. This strategy works very well early in a workshop for people to get to know each other. It is fun to let them swop name tags instead of objects. Of course you will make the story light and not to personal for the start of a process.
  4. If you want to keep the source of each story anonymous, use ordinary playing cards for people to swop. Only the person who had a particular card would know if it was theirs or not.


‘This is not a …’ or ‘Use it for something it’s not’ or ‘Props game’


• Encourages risk taking and creating a safe climate.
• Develops creative thinking.


Participants make a circle around an arbitrary object like an empty water bottle. Each participant gets a chance to step forward and demonstrate what else the object could be.

10 – 20 minutes

Number of participants: 4 – 12 (if there are more than 12 divide them in smaller circles)

Game flow:

Have the participants stand in a circle. Place an arbitrary object in the middle of the circle. Anything like an empty bottle or a kitchen appliance will do the trick. Tell them that everyone will get a chance to step forward pick up the object and say “This is not a …. (Bottle for example) this is a …( instead of talking, the participant shows  with action what the object might be).  For example if it is a telescope the participant can hold it in front of his/her eye and look around the room. other participants call out what they think the object is until they get it right or they give up. The participant with the object then confirms what it was and returns the object to the middle of the circle.


Tell the participants that everyone must come up with at least 3 different ideas. This stretches them to really think creatively and challenges their belief of what is actually possible and plausible. Most participants will think it will be impossible for everyone to come up with 3 different ideas. Where in fact there are endless possibilities.

Treat each suggestion as equally creative and encourage the participants to support each other by applauding after every demonstration.

Debrief questions:

• What was interesting about the exercise?
• How did it feel to participate?
• What made it difficult?
• What helped to make it easier?

Improv class 7 – Physicalization

Physicalization is the method used by improv players to create imaginary locations, objects, and events. The best way to help the audience and your fellow players see the objects and environments that you create is if you, yourself, create those imaginary environments.

We started the class with a warm-up game called “Sound ball” or “Morph ball” as I like to call it. In this game participants pass imaginary balls accompanied with a sound to one another. The one catching the ball receives it with the same characteristic (wait, size, consistency ect)) as the one passing it and then morphs it into a new ball with different characteristics.

I then took the class on a guided fantasy into their imaginations. The adventure began on the beach, moved to a second-hand store, into a forest, into a castle with a table with delicious food, into a room with paintings of significant events, into a room with a person on a throne and finally into a garden. It is amazing to see how your imagination and your past experiences along with your current state of mind work together to create this dream like experience. Stephan saw King Arthur and Luci saw BA Baracus who demanded to know why she was so afraid…

In the following exercise we passed imaginary objects to each other. It was funny to see how the rat turned into a hatching egg.

For the next exercise everyone had to reach under their chairs and pull out an object without thinking beforehand what it was going to be. They had to discover something and then explore it until they got an emotional reaction from it. It is easier said than done not to think ahead and just let go and discover something. However ,when you allow yourself to discover, your discovery is much more interesting and your emotional reaction far more authentic. The essence of improvisation is making discoveries in the moment. This means you have to trust yourself and let go of the need to plan ahead. When you plan ahead you are not open to all the possibilities that are present in the moment.

Next we played an environment exercise. For this exercise a location is determined and then one by one each character must enter the location and use all the objects that all the previous players used and then add another object. It is important to remember where each object was placed. A good way to practice your physicalization is to notice in everyday life how you hold different objects. Doing this will help you to be more present in your day to day actions. We picked a band practise room and a dance studio for our locations. I really enjoyed the characters that everyone used in the environment. When you explore in a character you find a lot more fascinating things to do with the object. Choosing a character and acting and reacting from that character are probably one of the most important improv practices. For me it is also one of the best applications of improv in everyday life. Who you are, is more important than what you do, because who you are determines what you do. Therefore it is more important to figure out who you are than what it is that you are suppose to do.

For the final exercise we played two person scenes where the first player had to establish an environment through physicalization (the where of the scene). The second player had to establish the relationship between the characters (the who of the scene). The scenes were lovely, thanks for everyone’s participation.


Improvisation class 6 – Status

We started the class with 2 name games, namely Bang bang and George. What I love about George is how the clapping is like the principles of improv. At first it is really difficult to get the clap sequence right, but after some practice you don’t even think about it anymore. It becomes a structure around which you can just improvise. After George we played “What are you doing?”. This game stretches your mind and shows how much you actually think with your body.

For the first status exercise I gave everyone a number that only they could see and told them to play a gibberish scene on a pirate ship. They had to exhibit their own status and try to figure out the status of the other players. It was interesting to note that how much you speak has no influence on your status. Someone who speaks a lot can be a babbling fool or on the flip side…one who barks orders at everyone else. Someone who is silent can feel they don’t have anything worth saying or by adjusting the energy behind that very silence, command the attention of others. It all depends on how you talk or stay silent. It is also fascinating to see how people with different status interact with their environment – players with high status move around a lot like they own the space, while low status players only occupy small spaces.

For the next exercise I stuck a number on each person’s forehead representing their status, 1 being the lowest and 10 the highest and told them to play a scene in a castle. The aim of the game is to discover your own status by the way others react towards you. It was interesting to see how those with low status bond with each other, while those with high status often find themselves in conflict.

For the last part of the class we played silent 2 person scenes using different statuses. The silent, scenes forces players to show and not tell. It also helps players to pay more attention to what the other player is doing and react more truthfully. I instructed the players to naturally switch their status during the scene. This switch made for attention-grabbing interactions. It builds on the idea of breaking routines that we played with in the previous class about story (read more about story here). Changing the status hierarchy in a scene is a great way to break a routine and creates great story. People love stories in which the underdog triumphs or where the oppressed is liberated and the oppressor taken from power.

More thoughts on status:
In all human interaction there is some form of status interaction taking place. In everything you are saying or doing you are either heightening or lowering your status, however subtle it might be. People usually have a natural preferred status that they play. Whether it is high or low, it is usually a form of defence mechanism. People who prefer high status very often want to keep others at a distance while those who play low status may be people pleasers. High or low status isn’t inherently good or bad, but understanding how to use status in your interactions with people is a very useful social skill.

Please share some of your thoughts on status.

Improv Class 5 – Make up your own story

Story was the focus of this week’s class. We started the class with an exercise from Imago Relationship Therapy. In this exercise each participant gets the opportunity to say in a few sentences what they need to say to be fully present. One of the others must then mirror that persons exact words back to them. The exercise is not so much about saying what you need to say to be present, but being listened to fully without judgement. When we listen to people like this we help them to become fully present. In essence what we are doing is accepting them and showing them that they are welcome and worth being listened to.

The next exercise was a game call Todododo in which we had to make word associations keeping a rhythm. This illustrates how much easier it is to come up with ideas if you stop trying so hard. This is why in Improv we say “be average”. If you stop trying to be perfect and get everything right , it helps to lower anxiety and your brain can relax and function better so that your creativity can surface. After that we played another word association game in which we just made associations around the circle. This game illustrated how our minds automatically make links between random words. In the next game everyone paired up with one other person. The one had to come up with 4 unrelated sentences that the other had to connect together to create a story. Relating random events together is what makes a story. At first it sounds like a difficult task but as I mentioned earlier the brain does it automatically. Our brains are wired that way. Relating events together and making up stories is how we make sense of the world.

Then we played Automatic Story. In this game one player has to ask yes/no questions about the storyline of an unknown story that the other player has in mind. What the questioning player doesn’t know is that the person answering the questions is only saying yes to questions starting with a vowel and no to questions starting with a consonant. The person asking the questions is therefore making up the story without knowing it. This game illustrates how easy it is to make up our own stories. Isn’t it interesting how in life we also often think that someone else is in control of our tale, while we are actually the authors of our own life stories?

The next game that we played was What happens next? In this game one player stands in the middle of the circle and acts out a story that the rest of the group make up one sentence at a time. After each sentence the player asks “What happens next?” To improvise a good story in a group there are 4 important guidelines-

• Free association: Free associated ideas create the material from which a story can be constructed.

• Reincorporation: Reincorporation is the recycling or re-using of ideas or situations from earlier in the story. By reincorporating ideas and situations you make sense of the random ideas generated by free association.

• Platform: The who, what and where of a scene. Success of a scene often depends on a solid and clear platform.

• Breaking routine: A good story that will engage an audience is a series of routines that are broken creating new routines.

I believe that if we want our lives to be good stories we must become aware of routines that are limiting us and break them and create new routines. And when the new routine starts to limit us we must break it again. Routines can be anything from a mindset, to a hab it to a physical space. The harder it is to break the routine, the higher the risk and the better the potential for a really good story.

As a footnote: Sandra Lee Schubert co – facilitated a writing program for 10 years where participants would weekly share immensely personal pieces of some aspects of their lives. In a conversation, her co-facilitators asked why they had to be so personal. She asked, “ Why not? “There is a deep, deep desire to be heard. People want to stake their claim in the landscape of story. Intimacies are shared because we want to take the power back. Why should someone else define your story?

Improvisation class 3 – Make your partner look good.

We started the class with a relaxation exercise to help us become aware of our bodies. Becoming aware of your body is a great way to get out of your head and become present. Next we played a series of mirroring exercises. First just one person creating a sound and a move which is mirrored by another player, then everyone mirror’s the person. Finally everyone is mirroring everyone. It takes a lot of awareness of the other players to adapt to whatever they are doing. Mirroring your partner is a great way to make your partner look good. Check out this Ted Talks Video about how a crazy nut is turned into the leader of a movement by someone else who made him look good by mirroring his moves.

Luci commented about how it was easier to just follow the men in the group than the woman. Is this because the men made louder noises and bigger movements? Or is it because of social conditioning? A good improviser is aware of everyone in the group and can pick up subtle offers. A good improviser is also aware in every moment, knowing when he/she needs to take control and take initiative and when he/she needs to give over control and allow someone else to take focus.

After the mirroring exercise we played a game called “Gifts”. In this game a player gives another an imaginary gift without having to know what it is. The one receiving the gift must say what it is and accept it like it is the one thing they’ve always wanted. This game illustrates how physical gestures can also be offers. The one receiving the gift accepts the physical offer and builds on it by saying what it is. By accepting the gift with so much enthusiasm he/she also make his/her partner look good.

The last game for the evening was “Blind offers”. In this game one player starts with a physical movement, another player then enters and says something that accepts the first player’s movement and justifies it. The first then replies in a way that builds on the second player’s comment. eg. First player makes a physical movement that looks like someone scrubbing a floor. The second player enters and says, “John the deck better be spotless before we set out on our voyage.” The first replies, “Ai ai Captain!” Antoinette made a very important statement after the class. She commented on how difficult it was for her to come up with a response to the first player’s movement. She realised that the reason for the difficulty was that she thought that she needed to say something funny. She realised however that if she just focused on the other player and tried to make them look good, it’s much easier to come up with something good. Jacques also mentioned that it was much easier to just go on and start making a physical movement because he knew his partner will accept it and build on it.

So how often do we do this in real life? How often are we focused on making our partners look good rather on just making ourselves look good? How often do we block others in an attempt to make ourselves look good?

Improvisation Class 2 – Listening and awareness

The theme for last night’s Improvisation class was listening and awareness.
Listening and awareness is fundamental for improvisation. Like I mentioned in the previous class, everything is an offer in improvisation and the more offers you can become aware of, the more you have to work with. Mayah remarked on how MacGyver is a good example of this. The character could always get himself out of life threatening situations by just using whatever he could find in his immediate surroundings. A quote from Mr MacGyver Season 2: ” I say we trust our instincts, go with our gut. You can’t program that. That’s our edge.” That’s why I always say Improvisation skills are crucial, because it could save your life.

We started the class with a classic Keith Johnstone exercise, that I call “change 3 things”. Participants pair up and observe one another. They then turn back to back and change 3 things about their appearance, like loosen one button or role up a sleeve. They then turn back to each other and try to identify the changes. I repeat this with 6 changes and then 10 changes.
The more challenging the game gets the more participants become aware of the other person.

The next exercise we played is an Augusto Boal walking exercise that I call “Stop go”. In this game all the participants walk around spreading themselves evenly across the space. When I clap they must stop and when I clap again they must walk. I do this for a while and then I tell them that they have to stop and go together without me clapping. In the first round everyone just had to focus on my clap, but for the second round you had to be aware of everyone else. Instead of being individuals just walking around being controlled from the outside, they now became a self organising system
– Everyone aware of everyone else, giving and taking control amongst themselves.

The next exercise we did is also an Augusto Boal exercise that I learned from Adrian Jackson. He calls it a “group meditation”. In this exercise everyone stands in a circle and observe one other person in the circle. Any movement the other person makes must be copied and accentuated a bit. It’s not long before everyone is jumping up and down and waving their arms recklessly. Then I tell them to, instead of accentuating the other person’s movement, to tone down the movement, ie. make it a little smaller. Astonishingly, before along, everyone is standing motionless. Pierre commented on how much energy was created by just building a little on the other person’s movement. This is a very good example of the “yes and” principle that we discussed last week.

We ended the class with 2 focus games. In the first we passed around imaginary balls and in the second we created 3 different patterns that we had to continue without dropping any pattern. In both these games you have to constantly switch between focusing on one person and being aware of everyone else. Later it starts happening simultaneously and you go into a state of flow. This state is very playful and you start losing yourself in the activity, becoming less self conscious and more aware.

I’d love to hear your comments.
Thank you for everyone’s participation. I look forward to next week.

Improv Class 2.6 – Who is the hero in your story?

In his book “A million miles in a thousand years” Don Miller distils the essence of a good story as “a character that wants something and overcomes conflict to get it”. In the previous class we focused on creating a strong character (a character that knows what he/she wants). Now to write this character into a good story he/she needs to overcome some kind of conflict to get what he/she wants. In her article, “A Story structure for change and growth”, (click here to download article) Petro Janse van Vuuren identifies 4 essential characters that make up a good story. The first is the protagonist (hero/main character) of the story – the character that wants something. The second is the antagonist (nemesis/villain). The antagonist is in direct conflict of the protagonist and doesn’t want the protagonist to get what they want. A third character is the mentor (guide/guardian angel). The mentor helps and guides the protagonist to get what they want. The last character is the contagonist (obstacle/ tempter). The role of the contagonist is to distract the protagonist from achieving what he/she really wants. The contagonist is not in direct conflict with the protagonist like the antagonist. The contagonist tests the protagonist, to see if he/she is worthy of getting what he/she wants.

In Monday night’s class we played a new game that I made up based on these 4 characters. I call this game “The 4 roles game”. In the game 4 players are each given one of the 4 different characters. Three scenes are played. The first scene is between the protagonist and the mentor. In this scene what the protagonist wants must be clearly defined. In the next scene the protagonist meets the contagonist, who tries to distract the protagonist from achieving his/her goal. In the last scene the protagonist faces the antagonist and must overcome him/her to get what he/she wants. Here is an example from last night’s class. Ruan played a dancer who wanted to win the Olympic dance medal. Luci played the mentor who taught him to dance from his heart. In the next scene Ruan is distracted by his girlfriend (contagonist) played by Minki who wants him to copy other dance styles in his dancing. In the last scene Ruan is faced with his arch nemesis (antagonist) Juan-Philip, 3 times dance world champion played by Olaf. In order to beat him Ruan remembers the words of his mentor, reminding him to dance from his heart. His own authentic dance style overwhelms Juan-Philip and he wins the Olympic dance medal. WOW, what a beautiful story, made up right there on the spot because everyone knew what role they had to play.

So what role are you playing in your own life? Are you the hero? Or are you your own antagonist, preventing yourself from getting what you really want? Or are you the hero but find yourself lured and occupied by the distractions of a contagonist in your life? Or don’t you know what you really want so you are not really living a good story? Are you experiencing life as a series of random events? (If you want to read more about knowing what you want read my previous blog “what do you really want?”)
You are the author of your own life story and you have the power to cast the other roles in your life. Think of someone who you have cast as an antagonist in your life. Maybe you want to quit your job and start your own business but your father or your husband doesn’t want you to for whatever reason. You can cast them as an antagonist who is preventing you from getting what you want. However you can cast them as a contagonist who is helping you to know if you are ready for this big step. Or you can even cast them as a mentor that is guiding you to make an informed decision. The way you cast them will determine how you will react towards them and the influence they will have on you. In this story the antagonist isn’t really your father or your husband. The real antagonist is being stuck in a job that is not allowing you to live out your passion.

Understanding that all 4 roles are essential for a good story will help you to recognize and accept conflict, temptation and support in your life so that you can be the hero of your own life story and get what you really want out of life.

If you want to know more about how to become the hero of your own life story attend our Personal Success Story workshop.

Click on the following links for a Personal success Story workshop in your area.
Western Cape

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