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.

Story-Strategy for Coaches and Facilitators – Podcast 1

In this episode Shawn Utterback from the Play Storming Group interviews Petro Janse Van Vuuren (PhD) regarding the upcoming Applied Improvisation for Trainers and Facilitators Course that will be held right before the Applied Improvisation World conference in Austin Texas .  Petro shares how Story-Strategy serves as a model for designing Applied Improvisation processes to creates safety and enables deep learning experiences.

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

For more info on The Applied Improvisation Network Click here.

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

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


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




Breaking through personal resistance

Call on the Hero’s Character

Golden ring from The Lord of the Rings

Once people catch on to a new idea, a new way of viewing a problem reframed as a possibility (Introduction), they must be enrolled as the heroes who can make that possibility happen.

As soon as your people start dreaming about new possibilities their status quo is threatened. This automatically leads to at least five kinds of resistance. The first kind is personal resistance.  Your audience is asking: Why me? How is this relevant to me?

The most effective strategy to overcome this kind of resistance is to make an appeal on the prospective hero’s character as revealed in their core values. From this perspective, personal resistance often relates to moral objection and can be extremely hard to address, if you don’t do it on the values level.

Why does Horton save the tiny city on the clover?

In Dr. Seuss’s Horton hears a Who Horton, an elephant,  take up the dangerous opportunity of saving the tiny city on the clover. His motivation? Because Horton believes “a person’s a person no matter how small”. It is this belief that sets him apart from the other creatures in the story – interestingly underlined by the fact that he himself is the largest ‘person’ in the story. This belief not only gets Horton to commit to the adventure, but also pulls him through when it becomes difficult to continue.

Gandalf convinces Frodo in Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ to take on the treacherous journey to destroy the ring and save Middle Earth, by appealing to his Hobbit nature. It is because he is a Hobbit, that he can do it.

It is the ability of the guide or mentor to see the best in the hero that inspires the hero to take on the challenge. It is similarly the job of us as speakers and trainers to see the potential in our audience and view them as possessing the special qualities that will make them successful. In this way we begin to overcome personal resistance early on.

The teacher who looks at her class and sees difficult teenagers who would rather Mxit than learn, has a very hard time teaching them. Another teacher looks at the same group and sees teenagers desperate for something intriguing and worthwhile to learn.  She has a ball in class inspiring them to achieve new heights. She even uses Whatsapp in her learning strategy to help them internalise her teaching.

How do you enrole your audience as heroes?

Here are some examples we have used with success:

1. Name tags: At a youth conference we printed the designation ‘chosen one’ on the name tags worn by the audience identifying their roles as heroes with an important job.

2. Hand outs: with a vision and values alignment workshop we printed the handout in the form of a passport and enrolled the delegates as ‘ambassadors’ for the newly articulated vision and values statement…

3. Interactive devices: At a customer service training workshop of Spier Wine Farm, we asked the observing participants to be judges of apresentation enrolling them as the experts on customer service. We devised a tool whereby they could intervene and fix the service disasters we were presenting to them.

As we look over to our audience what do we see? People in need of our rescue or people endowed with exactly the right character and nature to make the change themselves?

Sure, you say, but what of those experiences where the resistance in the room and the skepticism is so thick you can cut it with a knife?

Here it may be helpful to remember that there are generally speaking two kinds of people in front of you: optimists and pessimists. Optimists are motivated by the dream of realising potential. When you paint the picture of possibility to them, they get motivated by that dream. These people are natural ‘yes and’ people. But there are also pessimists in the room, people who are motivated by the void. They see what is wrong, and what obstacles lie in wait. They get motivated by the idea of fixing the problem.

Once you have called the hero to action, you must open a space for people to air doubts and reservations. You can also allow some debate. If you don’t, the pessimists do not get a chance to see the obstacles and voice them, so they do not get motivated. You may experience this as negativity as a blocking ‘yes, but’ energy, but people do not have to be happy to be motivated to go on. As Adam Grant says in his article on The The positive power of negative thinking: “IF you want to sabotage a pessimist, make him happy’.

What is crucial, though, is not to think you have to answer the obstacle or show hoe to overcome it. Again, you will spoil the pessimist’s fun. All you need to do is create a space to hear the objections and validate them as being reasonable. The invitation here is for you to ‘yes and’ the objection, not ‘yes but’ it. If you block the objections, your audience will go into a threat response triggering the limbic system and then you have lost them. You can click here to read about strategies to help you work with doubts and reservations.

Being a wizard

In The Lord of the Rings Frodo gets very angry and resistant when Gandalf calls on his Hobbit nature as motivating ploy. But Gandalf does not try to argue with him, he listens patiently and then tells him a story about Bilbo that goes even deeper to the core of Frodo’s character. . The story talks about ‘the pity of Bilbo’ as a trait that could be the key to success. Frodo, who dearly loves his uncle and who is also Bilbo’s heir, understands the gravity of this idea that he had also inherited Bilbo’s nature as one who takes pity. He sees that he is the one to take up the challenge.

I must admit, I am seldom clever enough to take a doubt or reservation and turn it into a call on character – we are not all wizards. As long as you did not block the objections,  you can move on until you hit one of the other four types of resistance. Read the next installment dealing with relational resistance: “Why you? Why would you know how to help me?”








Five types of resistance and how to break through

James and the Giant Peach

Introduction:  Paint a picture of the possibility

What made James in ‘James and the Giant Peach’ climb inside a giant peach, befriend life size bugs and steer across an ocean to go to New York? What made Cinderella get out of the ashes and off to the Prince’s ball? What made the frog turn into a prince?

The answer to all these questions is the same: they believed that it was possible. OF course, none of them started out believing it, they all needed someone to paint them a picture of the possibility. James lost hope when his cruel aunts destroyed the picture his deceased father had given him showing the big vibrant city of New York.  This dream needed reviving by the peculiar little man with the shiny green things. Cinderella was shattered and crying in the ashes when the Fairy Godmother found her. As for the frog: it was the arrival of the princess that sparked his hope.

Before the dream was planted, there was no resistance to change, only stuckness and possibly despair, or maybe just ignorance of what is possible. Yet, once a dream is planted, one type of resistance after another pops up to frustrate both the dreamer and the dream giver, the hero of the story and the story weaver, both you and your client.

Do you have a dream for your people?

Any dream will inspire some people immediately, but as they try to realise it, they will hit obstacles. Some of these obstacles are personal, some are relational, practical or social. Others are just nasty interruptions from outside.

On the other hand, some of the people you want to influence may be skeptical from the outset, seeing all the problems that might occur and anticipating (or inventing) problems that may never happen.

Either way, there are 5 types of resistance. In stories these five types often follow a similar sequence in which they occur. Here they are in the most common sequence.

1. Personal Resistance – Why me? How is this relevant to me?

2. Relational Resistance – Why you? Why would you know how to help me?

3. Social Resistance – Who is in this with me? Do I belong with them and they with me?

4.  Practical Resistance – How is this going to work? What is the process and the strategy?

5. Cosmic Resistance – What happens when things don’t work out as planned? If it or I fail?

Each type of resistance corresponds with a certain kind of information that your people need in order for them to come with you. Over the next few posts I will share these with you one by one and give suggestions on how you can overcome them. I will offer practical tools that you can try out or adapt as you like.

What makes break through possible?

Without a proper dream, you may not even encounter resistance because your invitation is not different enough from the status quo. Too often that French proverb comes true that says: The more things change, the more they stay the same. That is because no true shift was made and true break through never occurred.

The term ‘break through’ only makes sense in the context of resistance. Without resistance, there is no break through needed and no real change occurs. What makes break through possible is the fact of resistance itself – resistance that arises because the Call to Adventure that you issue is so different from the Current Reality that people experience.

What does a proper dream look like?

It takes the form of a Visionary Goal, not a SMART goal.

A Visionary Goal is one that paints a picture of a possibility that seems unrealistic and that no-one in the room really knows how it can be reached. This is in contrast to so called ‘SMART’ goals which are Specific, measurable, actionable, Realistic and Time oriented. A visionary goal can be specific and measurable and it may even have a target date for completion, but it is not realistic and few people can see how to make it happen.

An example of such a dream is the Volkswagen (VW) visionary goal of 1, 10, 100 by 2010. They wanted to be first in the country on customer service, among the top ten in terms of local quality and make a turnover of 100 million (I am going on memory here, let me know if I have it wrong). In her talk at the Knowledge Resources Organisational Development Conference earlier in 2014, Joan Peters, Leadership Development Manager at Volksvagen explained how few people in the organisation thought reaching this dream was possible, and yet they were mobilised into action and managed to achieve it.

Even though visionary goals do not seem realistic or actionable, they inspire action by releasing positive energy in the brain. The brain loves to dream and follow visionary goals..

Why does the brain like to dream?

The brain loves to dream because of the effect expectation of reward has on its chemistry. Dreaming inspires hope. Hope is an expectation of something positive being fulfilled in the future. This expectation of reward releases dopamine into your brain, the same stuff that gets released when you laugh and exercise.

What is extra interesting here, says Dr. Ward Plunet, is that studies show people with higher status is more prone to hope in relation to people in lower status positions. This is because they have more hope of getting the pick of the crop in terms of food, shelter and sexual partners. A sense that you have power to choose adds to the feeling of autonomy and certainty that you will not go hungry, cold or deprived.

This means that the more people think they have control, the more they are likely to take action on your invitation, but the more they feel dis-empowered, the more they will block your enthusiasm. This ‘blocking’ of ideas can be termed a ‘yes, but’ energy. It stands in stark contrast to a ‘yes, and’ energy that accepts new ideas and builds on them.

As we explore the five types of resistance and how to overcome them, both neuro-science and the ‘yes and’ principle will be our conversation partners.

What do I need to do?

As guide and mentor the first step in breaking through resistance is to paint a picture of the possibility so that they can ‘feel the pain’ of not being there yet and begin to yearn for change. Your first job is to ask ‘What if…” What if a neglected orphan  could go to New York in a giant peach What if a lowly Cinderella could dance with the royal heir?  What if a frog could be a prince?

What if you understood the five types of resistance and get Cinderellas and frogs to change their own fates?

The next instalment will look at the first type of resistance, Personal Resistance, and how you can increase your people’s sense of autonomy and move them to say ‘yes and’.

Watch this space for the next instalment of using SNE (Strategic Narrative Embodiment) to break through five tyes of resistence…

Dr. Petro Janse van Vuuren

Professional Facilitator, Coach  and Story Strategist

Why a ‘just fine’ facilitation is not good enough – and how to get it unstuck

Solitary Confinement Cell door
Stories teach us about five types of resistance that a storyteller must take the main character through in order for him or her to transform. If you want to turn a frog into a prince, and not just dress the frog up in princely garb, you must guide that frog through. And your strongest ally in this journey is information. People need information – five types of information, matching the five types of resistance:

1. Personal Resistance – Why me? How is this relevant to me?

2. Relational Resistance – Why you? Why would you know how to help me?

3. Social Resistance – Who is in this with me? Do I belong with them and they with me?

4.  Practical Resistance – How is this going to work? What is the process and the strategy?

5. Cosmic Resistance – What happens when things don’t work out as planned? If it or I fail?

When you are the speaker, facilitator or coach, you are the story weaver and your client or audience is the princely frog.

I spoke this morning at the Knowledge Resources Organisational Development Conference about these five types of resistance. I devised an ingenious interactive process to illustrate it and cleverly used The Shawshank Redemption and The Great Escape as metaphors for breaking through (or out of ) the prison of resistance.

But it bombed.

No, it did not bomb, it actually went just fine, but it did not wow the way I dreamed it would (being so clever and all J). ‘Just fine’ is just not good enough.

Why did it not work?

At first I thought it was because I failed to get two thirds of the audience over the first kind of resistance. Read the rest of this article on my personal blog.

How do I bring about shift that lasts?

Story-Strategy, Act 1, Episode 2: Possibility

If you are a speaker, trainer, facilitator, coach or OD (organisational Development) practitioner, you would have noticed that audiences, trainees, participants and teams have become more and more distracted, demanding and opinionated. Like Claire in the previous blog post (How do I bring about shift that lasts?):

We need new moves to move the people we serve.

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, the shaky state of world economies and the uncertainty created by political shifts and health threats, people are more and more weary of solutions that would either waste their money, or cause more uncertainty.


Old fashioned lecturing, like FUNDA Training and Conferencing was used to, does not work anymore. On one hand lectures are content driven and the content dictate the design and flow of the presentation. On the other hand, the content proposes 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.


Motivation Inc and Team Adventures, from yesterday’s story, had each tried to solve some of these problems. Motivational speakers liven up presentations by turning it into more of a show.  Through showmanship they artfully design their content using story, evolving emotion, 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.

However, 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 they lack is the ability to help people connect their own individual stories to the story in the room. They provide a grand show, but still offers a one size fits all solution that cannot shift the individual. It is a known fact enough speakers that only 5% of the people in your audience will be deeply moved and impacted by your presentation. While many may enjoy it, only 5% will be at a place where your story and their stories intercept to create shift. There is still something missing.


Team building programmes step into this gap by offering game like solutions. A game is not content driven, it is structure driven. This means that within the confines of the game, people have a certain amount of control to manipulate the rules to their advantage. A game can be individualised. A game is also good for connecting people and building relationship, something that often enhance emotional connection either by awakening competitiveness or by leveraging people’s feeling of belonging. However, unless games are structured around content that can bring about learning, people often leave a teambuilding experience warm and fuzzy, but without a lasting shift notable in the workplace.


If lectures, shows and games do not offer lasting solutions that can bring about shift, there must be a fourth option – a solution we simply term SHIFT. The Playing Mantis SHIFT model is the subject of the next blog.


How do I improve learning and development programmes?

SHIFT Act 1, Episode 1: Current reality

FUNDA is a training and conferencing company who specialises in providing the knowledge and resources their clients need to train their people and develop their teams. FUNDA (funda is the Zulu word for ‘learn’) started out 17 years ago and quickly made a name for themselves in the organisational learning and development sector. Their clients praised the quality of the content they provided and the expertise of the specialists they hired to present the training.

Over the last 7 years or so, FUNDA had been losing clients, though. When they ask defecting clients why they are leaving, they get mixed answers:  ‘we are cutting costs, so we are opting for online learning courses’, ‘We felt that we needed more entertainment and inspiration mixed into the learning – something wow’, or ‘our people want something that is more fun and challenging, something that brings the team together ’and ‘we are looking for something different, that is more relevant to us specifically and can cater for the diversity of people we employ’.

The owner and CEO of FUNDA, Claire Pillay, started looking at what her competitors were offering. She noticed that the speaker’s burro across the square from her had halted their office renovations. A few years ago when the renovations at Motivation Inc started, it looked like they were doing great, now it seems they were cutting costs. “If people are really looking for inspiration and entertainment mixed into the learning, why is Motivation Inc not booming?” Claire wondered.

A previous loyal client of her company dropped in one day to give her a pamphlet: ‘Team Adventures’ it read ‘every extreme adventure you can think of for your whole team’. She looked at her client with raised eyebrows: “So is this the trend now?”

“No,” he answered “too expensive and nothing changes at the office after you go on one of these”. Can’t you get us something that is fun and meaningful? Isn’t there a way in which we can learn, bond, be inspired and shift our company into the 21st century so that we can keep up with the changing times?”

Claire realised that the lecture based, information transmission model her company was built on, no longer served. People can get everything they wanted to know off the internet in various forms to fit their individual needs, from blog articles to full online courses. But people are also no longer looking for pure motivational or inspirational speakers who can both entertain and teach them at the same time. While people enjoy the ‘show’, they still leave without the message impacting and changing their work environment. Yet, when organisations try to remedy this by taking their teams on teambuilding experiences to build relationship and connection, still people do not integrate the experience into everyday work life.

“So what is the solution?”  Claire asked herself, “How do I improve our learning and development programmes?”


Calamities and miracles


  • To convey the concept of reframing their own stories
  • To help participants become present and positive
  • To help overcome doubts and reservations for the session to come

Overview: In pairs participants share a part of their own stories first as a series of calamities and then as a series of miracles.

Group size: 4+ (join in if you don’t have an even number)

Time: 10-15 min

Game flow:

For the participants For the facilitator
In pairs share with each other your story of how you came to be here today. Tell it as a series of obstacles, challenges and calamities that you had to overcome. 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.
Tell the same story of how you came to be here, but this time, tell it as a series of miracles that serendipitously worked our exactly in the right way to get you here right now ready for the session. Again 2 min with warnings and count down.

Debrief questions:

What was this exercise like for you?

which one is the true story?

All answers are correct, because the true story is the one that you believe right now. It can be any of the two or both at once, it does not matter what people say all will be right.


Thank each other for sharing stories – stories are precious and personal and must be appreciated.

Tips and variations:

  1. You can ask people to relate any story, even their entire life stories (give them at least 3 min then).
  2. It can also be related to a specific topic (weight loss, challenging careers, your relationship with your partner etc)  e.g. Tell the story of how you have tried to lose weight and failed up until today and then how all the events in your story about weight loss leads miraculously to this point making it the perfect moment in time to be where you are.


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.