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.



How to use stories to make learning stick

Over and over you may have heard or experienced how a story can really make an idea stay with you. You have heard someone relate something that had happened to them and you retell it struck by what the story says about your world and its people.

What about stories that you remember from childhood or from literature? They create metaphors and symbols that we use in everyday life to refer to some kind of truth that we learned through them. The proverbial goose who lays the golden egg, or the black sheep in the family. What about Afrikaans people saying “ek is nie die vark in hierdie verhaal nie” (I am not the pig in this story).

Stories make learning stick because they involve the left and the right brain, they excite the emotions and they connect concepts with one another in surprising but memorable ways. They make what is abstract suddenly concrete and doing so creates aha-moments that stay with you over time. Stories even give you practical solutions and show you things you can do to make your life different.

There is another untapped but extremely powerful way in which stories can make learning stick – not through their content, but through their structure.

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.

Stories take the hero on a journey of learning – a kind of learning that not only sticks with him/her the hero, but impacts their entire community and often the land itself: they lived happily ever after,  their people prospered, and their land was fruitful.

A story is designed to teach the hero lessons that will stick – can the same structure do the same for you and your team, client or audience?

There are three levels on which this story structure works: the fictional, the personal, and the communal.

1. The fictional level

When you read or listen to a story you can distinguish the elements of the structure quite easily. Knowing the elements can then help you understand the story and use it to make your own stories.

2. Your own life journey.

Whenever you experience change, uncertainty, or heightened emotion, Once you understand stories, you can apply their meaning to your own life. your story is moving through one of the stages of story structure.

3. The growth of a group, company or community

Entire communities may go through change and again the same pattern is recognizable. You can therefore use story structure to understand and shape the growth of a group, company or community.

If you understand how the story structure of the hero’s journey works, you can use it in the lives of other people to play an important role in their growth. You can

  • shape information to fit into a story so that people are inspired to change;
  • use it to design presentations and proposals
  • design and organize workshops  and events that will help people open up to new ideas and change.

The three levels of the story’s function is very hard to separate from one another. The hero’s personal journey is woven into the journey of her own community.  In your own life too, the stories you read influence and mirror your life and your life influences and mirrors the lives of those around you. If you understand how this works, you may be able to use stories to manage your own growth and play a great role in shaping the stories of those of others.

Playing Mantis offers a one day workshop on Story Strategies for Facilitators where we explore how to use the structure of story as tool for designing learning experiences that will make the learning stick.

Personal Success Story Workshop – What’s your definition of success?

I just completed a blog post on why acting is more effective than thinking when it comes to achieving success. I realised that the very same information is as relevant to the Personal Success Workshop of the past week end as to the story class about which I was writing. So I am posting it again from the perspective of the definition of success. Or perhaps you rather just want to go straight to the notes for the Personal Success Story workshop.

When I asked participants in the Personal Success Story to form a continuum showing to what degree they are ready for transformation, most of them placed themselves close to the side that indicates they are sick of being where they are and in dire need of change.

Transformation becomes our definition of success as we embark on the success story together. Success very rarely have anything to do with external changes, but always refer to an internal shift or transformation that then has a direct effect on the outer world of the hero. The lonely Shrek in the first movie makes friends and finds true love not because someone outside of him started to care for him, but because he started to care for them. He chose to go after Fiona while still believing that she thinks he is an unlovable ogre.

There comes a point in everyone’s story, fictional or real, where a shift in perspective is crucial for successful transformation. In real life people look for this shift by reading books, attending seminars, talking to their friends and mentors, going to church and googling for info on the net. Yet all the info and talk and thinking in the world do not bring them to the point of making that internal behavioural shift – that moment that causes them never to be the same again – the moment that embodies their definition of success.

Then that same person goes on holiday, or has to deal with the death of a loved one, or a wedding, or they play a game of soccer with friends or they go for a hike in nature, or they create a piece of art, or join a dance class or just have a great meal with friends and suddenly old things have a new colour.

All these are examples of experiences that bring change: experiential learning. If transformation is your definition of success, these are the kinds of experiences you seek. Typically they have the following 4 aspects in common:

  1. A change of scenery/setting
  2. Involvement of the body i.e. movement
  3. Emotional connection i.e. a heart response and
  4. The presence of others – including the presence of nature or the creative muse

I went to my kinesiologist 2 months ago with a most debilitating pain in my back. She says to me: you think and struggle too much in your head and do not move enough in your body. She prescribed a half hour of walking twice a week so that my mental struggles can come into perspective and move from my head into my body.

Although these shifts can happen to anyone at any time, there is a particular moment in a story designed for it. A place in the story where it is most likely to occur because of all the story stages that preceded it. This moment is typically two thirds into the story just before act three. Some writers refer to it as the pause before the climax that calm before the storm. It is the moment when the hero seems to have lost and the journey seems to be a failure, then something happens that allows him/her to see the bigger picture and the greater good.

This is the moment where Shrek in the first movie realises it is no longer about getting his swamp back, but it is now about getting his love back. It is where Brave Heart realises it is no longer just about his family, but about is entire tribe.

I saw shifts occur in all the Personal Success Story workshop except for the one who was on the furthest end of the continuum regarding his need for change. This participant also happens to be Burgert, who is my business partner, and whose definition of success for this workshop would not have been personal success, but the successful completion of the workshop in creating transformation for our participants.

Congratulations to all of you who were brave enough to come to this very experiential workshop and allowed the processes to impact your lives. I trust that the experience will reveal its layers of truth for you ongoing over the next few months so that you can achieve the change that matches your definition of success.

Click her for the Personal Success Story Notes

Petro Janse van Vuuren


Story Class 1.1 – The Big Picture

The first two sessions of our 8 week story class deals with two big pictures: 1. an overview of story structure and the hero’s transformation. 2. The pivotal moment where the hero sees the big picture and chooses the greater good – or not. The whole story and all its elements revolves around this climactic moment, the elements are as follows:

Five Stages of story structure:

1. The Call to Adventure

 Example: Once upon a time there was a little girl who lived at the edge of a forest. She always wore a red riding hood that her grandmother had made for her. One day her mother called her: ‘Little Red, would you take this basket of goodies to your sick gran on the other side of the woods?”

2. Debate and preparation

“Sure, Mom,” she replied and set off.
Her mom called after her: “Just remember Rad, there is a wolf in the woods, so stay on the path and do not stray.”

3. The Journey (tasks and team)

Little Red skips into the woods singing to herself. She is tempted to pick flowers for her gran. She hears mom’s voice in her head, but she picks them anyway. She meets the wolf and innocently tells him where she is going. She follows his advice and take the wrong path…

4. Ordeal and reward


Little Red and the Wolf
Little Red and the Wolf

When Little Red gets to Grandma’s house…all is not well. Gran looks very ill indeed. “Gran, why are your eyes so big? Your ears? Your mouth?” So much the better to see you with, hear you with, SWALLOW YOU WITH…


5. Return

A wood cutter hears a disturbing snoring sound from grandma’s house. He finds the wolf, cuts him open and sets the two women free. Yes, Little Red is no longer that little and she never wore the red hood again…

Four Forces for change

1. The hero with the goal: Little Red Riding Hood with a basket for Grandma.

2. The guide who supports: Mom with her advice

3. The obstacles which tempts and distracts: The sick grandma who may like flowers, who must be reached asap…

4. The enemy who opposes: The hungry wolf

Three levels of character

1. Action that can be seen from the outside: Little Red wheres her riding hood everyday, she accepts the challenge without hesitating and she skips into the forest.

2. Attitude that reveals internal motivation: She is eager, innocent and full of energy, motivated by fun and adventure.

3. Awareness that comes from seeing the big picture: she learns about making mistakes and failure, but also about strength and courage. She is now more grown up and far less naieve.

These work together throughout the story in a certain sequence. In the first class last night we played with Little Red Riding Hood. Above is an analysis of the story according to the elements of story structure. What you will not find here is the depth and meaning we each gained from the experience for our individual lives. For that you need to join us next week when we deal with the story of Jona in the belly of the whale!

Here is more info on our story class

Alternatively, whach this blog as we play with the questions :

What stage of the story are you in right now?

What forces work to help you transform your life?

What really drives you as hero of your life story?

How can you use all this in helping others be their own hero’s?

Dr. Petro Janse van Vuuren