Our need for stories that move us

I dedicate this blog to the telling of stories that shatter stereotypes, open us up to each other and move us towards one another.

In 1994, when South Africans were going through the first general election and hope was soaring, I learned how deep and wide our wounds really are and how difficult the road to recovery. It is also the year I found the source of one of the most powerful healing agents: stories. (Read the rest of this story)

Find here Four kinds of stories:

  1. Stories I tell about how I was moved by fellow South Africans
  2. Stories that you send me that moved you– Send me one now, if you are moved to do so. If it fits, I will post it. How I will know if it fits?
  3. Fairy tales and other made up stories that move me in some way (or don’t as the case may be)
  4. Commissioned stories that people have asked me to create for special occasions.

You may also book me to

Tell a story for your people at a special event

Teach your people about story and how to use them for personal or group transformation

Coach you to tell or use stories more effectively as leader or speaker

EVENT: Pig Catching on 8 May

What would the tools you use say if they could talk?

Catch a Flying Pig
Catch a Flying Pig

If your technology, your materials or props could talk to you, they might have interesting opinions and suggestions about your facilitation, your coaching or even the way you run your business.. They may have ideas about how to improve the potential for catching pigs. For those who don’t know what I am on about, read more about catching pigs below.

This session will be especially helpful if you have questions around tools, materials and technology relating to your coaching/facilitation practise. Questions like:

  • Do you want new tools to help you make a pointIs your newsletter stuck?
  • Is your marketing system not working for you?
  • Is your computer frustrating you?
  • Are you wondering what form your facilitator guide or workbook should take?
  • Would you like to use more props?

We look forward to being inspired by you!

DETAILS:

Date: Fri 8 May
Time: 7 am to 9:30 am
Place: 305 Long Avenue, Ferndale.
Cost: R200 or R150 if you are still in the first year after attending the Playing Mantis Essentials Master Course in Coaching and Facilitation.
Coffee, tea, muffins and fresh fruit on arrival.

More on 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.

NOTE: no real pigs get harmed during the course of our work, we play only in the metaphoric sense and all our pigs have wings)

All our pig catching sessions are geared to learning new techniques for helping our clients to insight, break through and sustainable transformation. More specifically, we look at using methods and techniques from the performing arts. We have found that this is an untapped world of wealth where metaphoric work, embodied experiences and group imagination can bring about powerful transformations.

Click here if you want to attend

Story Secrets for Speakers #6 – When the world is against me

 

You painted a picture of the possibility (Secret #1).  Then you lead your audience past their doubts and reservations about their own suitability (Secret #2), whether or not they can trust you (Secret #3), the practicality of the solution (Secret #4) and the people that would be on the journey with them (Secret #5). Nowthey 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.

Here are 3 story tools to help your audience of participants reframe their situation:

 1. Humour

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.

Humour is fantastic for helping your audience reframe their situation and see it in a fresh light. The right story at the right time can break cosmic resistance.

2. A true story

My husband hates it when the local minibus taxis stop directly after a traffic light it really gets him angry.  Taxis all across South Africa do this driving the other motorists insane causing hoots and honks at every intersection. The are the fiends of the roads.

Then I move to Johannesburg – the big scary crime ridden city fill of bad guys. As usual I am reliant on public transport because of my bad eyesight, and I need to make use of taxi’s. Can I make peace with having to drive with a fiend behind a wheel?

I get into my first taxi and as he pulls into the road he does it with gusto exactly in the fashion that most irritates my husband. “What is he doing? Can’t he use his eyes??” I can almost hear him saying.  Behind my taxi a 4 X 4 family van swerves out of the way and honks loudly. The taxi driver honks back, leans over to me and says: “It must be a friend”.

Fiend or friend, it is all a matter of perspective, and choice of attitude. What a beautiful reframe and one I have used many times to break through cosmic resistance.

3. An interactive exercise

Yet, as I have mentioned before, it is really only when the audience can apply what you offer to their own individual life stories that break through is really possible. The following is a story structure to help your audience do this. 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.

Humour, stories and interactive exercises all help your audience to reframe their failures and see them from a fresh angle braking through cosmic resistance. Now there is just one more thing left to do…die. Read more in the final of the series: Story Secret 7.

Dr. Petro Janse van Vuuren

Researcher, Speaker and Coach

Need a speaking coach? Contact Petro

Interested in a course in facilitation and coaching? Click here

Looking for a speaker or storyteller at your event? Contact Petro

 

 

 

Easing past social resistance when facilitating

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.

Read more on the Playing Mantis blog andfind out what Eeyore has to do with it.

Overcoming Practical resistance: What’s the plan?

The tool, the plan, the rules

Neo and his mentor from the MatrixEvery facilitator or speaker faces resistance. If you have done a good job of Painting a Picture of the Possibility , (Introduction), you can expect at least 5 types of resistance: personal, relational, practical, social and cosmic. Here we focus on the third kind: practical, also called contextual, resistance.

Apart from the personal and moral objections of that comes with the first kind of resistance and the doubts they may have about you as the mentor, the second kind, there is a very real practical resistance. How will I do what you ask? What are the steps \ the plan?  Can I see the path and see myself walking it?

Whatever your solution is: 3 steps to losing weight, 5 types of resistance and how to overcome them or 7 principles of effective leadership, your audience needs to know it will work for them.

Like Aslan in the Narnia series, Dumbledore for Harry Potter and Griet for Liewe Heksie, the guide in the hero’s story do three things to guide the hero so he or she can see the way forward… Read the reston the Playing Mantis blog and find out what Neo from The Matrix has to do with it.

Need a speaking coach? Contact Petro

Interested in a course in facilitation and coaching? Click here

Looking for a speaker or storyteller at your event? Contact Petro

Five types of resistance and how to break through

Introduction:  Paint a picture of the possibility

James and his bug friends flying on the giant peach

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. Read more on my company blog…

Need a speaking coach? Contact Petro

Interested in a course in facilitation and coaching? Click here

Looking for a speaker or storyteller at your event? Contact Petro

How do I use the power of stories for my talks and workshops?

Once upon a time in the Bushveld of South Africa lived a dragon who thought he was a springbuck. He ate grass like the buck, hid from the midday sun under the trees like a buck and ran from the lions like a buck.

One day another dragon flew overhead and saw this dragon behaving like a buck. He swooped down, picked up the younger dragon and flew with him into the clouds.

“Fly!” her bellowed as he dropped the young dragon.

“No, no, no noooooo!”, shrieked the young one closing his eyes as the ground came up to meet him. But before he hit the earth, the older dragon scooped him up again.

“Fly!” he bellowed as he let go a second time, then a third and a fourth. On and on the same routine until the young dragon could not stand it anymore. Angrily he began to protest and struggle, but still it went on. The young dragon became angrier and more indignant still, until finally he had had enough. As he was hurtling towards the earth one more time he opened his mouth and roared: “I am not a DRA-GON!!!”. As he did so, flames burst from his mouth, his wings shot open and he caught an up draft narrowly escaping being smashed to the ground.

When he looked up to see where the other dragon had gone, he was just in time to see him disappear into the distance.  He had to work like mad to catch up. Now he lives with the last remaining pack of dragons in the Drakensberg. (Adapted from an old Chinese tale “The Roar of Awakening”)

Which of the two dragons do you identify with most? The younger one, or the older one?

Why? Take a moment to write your answer down.

I have just demonstrated two way of using  a story as part of a talk or workshop:

1. Tell a story

2. Let the people in the room reflect on the story in a way that connects their own life stories to the story in the room.

The most effective way is to let them reflect on it by themselves for a moment, then share in pairs and then feed back to the larger group on a voluntary basis.

The first works because stories can address all four the requirements of the AGAES model. This model explains the four elements that are needed for the brain to remember messages: Attention, Generation, Emotion and Spacing.

Attention: Because of their visual nature and ability to make abrstract concepts concrete and simplify highly complex ideas, stories capture attention. A well tole story also keeps it. This is especially true if the audience finds personal relevance in the story for their own experience.

Generation: Stories help the brain to make numerous new connections because it involves pictures, symbols and emotions and connecting all these to abstract concepts.

Emotion: A good story allows the audience to empathise on one level or another inviting them to link emotion to the message. This signals to the brain that the message is important based on the intensity of the emotion.

Spacing: If the message can be linked to clear symbols in the story, it means that it will be recalled in the future every time the audience sees something that reminds them of the message. The recalling after a space of time entrenches the message further.

If you then add the second kind of story-strategy i.e. letting people connect their own story link with the story in the room, you now double the effect of all four aspects of the AGES model. The sense that the story is personally relevant captivates more Attention. Sharing this with someone else and hearing their story Generates more connections in the brain. The social interaction itself signifies importance to the brain, because relating your story to others’ story satisfies the brains deep need for relating and belonging. This increases the Emotional response and adds another Spacing opportunity, because you will recall the story and its message every time you meet this person.

The third way of using story, however, can increase the effectiveness of your message exponentially. 3. Using story as a design principle for your entire talk or workshop.

 

Introduction exercises for Speakers and facilitators

Marius, the sales manager, spoke  again:

Now you have introduced everyone, you have oriented them, but you still have not explained the topic or started with the actual material all this was just introduction, now the speaker too has his or her introduction. This is taking very long.

True, you have only crossed the first threshold from their outside world into the learning space, now they still need to cross from their current understanding to a new understanding of the topic.  Yet it does not take long.  The only thing we added was this idea of asking them to air reservations or express feelings. This takes five minutes maximum compared to  the alternative : people remain distant and never really engage with the learning wasting their whole day and all your own effort..

Also, if you know that you need to do all three these things before continuing, you may find ways to condense your processes and combine some of them. The BBYB exercise for instance, both introduce the participants’ current reality regarding the topic in the room (step one of the second threshold) as well as present an invitation to participate (step 2 of the first threshold)

After you completed the first cycle with the agenda, and explanation of the working method and an opportunity for attendees to air their mixed responses, you introduce the speaker.

The speaker now tackles the next cycle of the double journey by building on the BBYB exercise showing how the perspective of the audience is mirrored in the world.  The speaker can do this by talking, letting people talk, or creating a whole brain participative experience.

Talking

Your bio of the speaker has set him/her up as expert, so the audience believes the, when they now paint a picture of the current reality from a global perspective. They also show the problems that arise from this perspective and its consequences., back it up with graphs, statistics, research and events that are in the news. All the time you are further building out the current reality of the topic be it leadership, sales , marketing or wellness.

Letting them talk

You may also choose more experiential and participative methods by inviting the CEO of the company to give an overview of the situation with financial reports, staff statistics, stories  and so on. You can also let people share stories of their experience relating to the issue with one another.

Experiencing

In a customer service training programme we designed for Spier Wine Farm, we used theatre images to really help participants feel the pain of the current reality. In four groups they had to create   theatrical tableaux where participants show scenes from lived experiences using their bodies to build statues. Each group showed a different set of consequences of bad customer service: the effect on 1. customers, 2.  the organisation, 3.  staff and their families and 4.  the wider South African community. People play out characters like a  disgruntled customer telling their friends not to go to this hotel (group 1), or perhaps the CEO needing to lay off staff because of cost cutting (group 2), or the husband telling his wife he had lost his job(group 3),, or children begging in the street because tourists are not here to support our economy (group 4). Playing out these scenes drive the message home using  Attention, Generation and Emotion (AGES model).

With the stage neatly set and the current pain identified and empathised with, you can now move to creating new possibilities again.

 

How do I ensure participation when I design a workshop?

How do I ensure participation when I design a workshop?

Claire Pillay  took a deep breath.

My head is spinning. I have to begin before I begin and I have to begin twice because people have to first come into the room and second  into the learning material. With all this beginning, when does the workshop actually start? Won’t I lose the people along the way?

I can see why you get confused, but it is simpler than you think. Tell me how do you usually begin a training programme or conference?

Aside from the room set up and materials etc? Because you said that is part of it.

Yes, those are part of beginning before you begin, we will covered that, but you can go ahead and tell me what you do once the people are in the room.

Well, the convener will welcome them, do a few logistics including an overview of the programme,  and then introduce the speaker. We give a short bio and then the speaker takes over. If I run the workshop myself, I will introduce myself and tell them what to expect from the session before launching into the topic.

That introduction you just described, together with the room set-up and the materials and the ‘begin before you begin’ BBYB exercise that we introduced , forms the first three steps of the Story-Strategy that gets people from their life outside the learning (kids, partners, traffic etc) into the learning space:

1. Sketching a picture of the current reality (Once upon a time there was someone, somewhere in a certain fix).

The most obvious way this is introduced is by giving people name tags that tell each other who they are and often also their companies and job titles. These name tags say: We acknowledge your current reality outside of this learning space. Usually there is tea served before the time so that people can ask each other: who are you and what do you do? Where do you come from and why did you come to this conference or workshop?  Speakers and facilitators usually also make it their business to find out as much as they can about their prospective audience even before the learning event.

Then the  BBYB exercise take this further and say: we acknowledge that you have current opinions about the learning we are presenting.. Your introduction of the speaker then establishes the speaker’s current reality: name and position and back story i.e. what brought them here.

2. Issuing a Call to Adventure that opens up new possibilities   (then one day something unusual happens).

The conference pack or learning material, the room set up and pictures on the walls all have their purpose in the second step of the Story-strategy. They set the scene for something new and unusual, novel and interesting. It captures the brain’s attention and focuses energy. Introducing the speaker and their topic takes this even further opening new possibilities around the subject. Going through the logistics and the agenda for the day helps participants to feel safer  building certainty. This is especially important if you did a BBYB exercise which could have made them a little uneasy because it was unexpected.

If you do use participation or dialogue, it is very important to also let people introduce themselves to each other, this brings in a sense of relatedness and helps people relax into the learning space and each others’ company. You can even combine this with the next step.

3. Making room for debate and doubts (But there are obstacles and questions)

If you really put out an attractive invitation, people will have mixed feelings of both excitement and anxiety. They may even wonder if what you are saying isn’t too good to be true. At this point you may want to ask participants to comment on their experience of the BBYB exercise, the room set-up, the conference pack or the agenda you are proposing.  In this way you acknowledge their mixed feelings.

This step is especially important if you are using participative methods like Applied Improvisation, creative drawing, World Cafe or Community Conversations. We will elaborate on this further in the next post.

Claire smiled  wryly:

We seldom do things risky, so we just ask people if they have any questions about the programme or whatever. Does that count?

Sure that counts, but people who are trapped in mixed emotions will seldom speak up. You need to address the emotions directly, else it blocks further engagement.  However, if you take them through this cycle, you greatly increase the potential for participation and shift.

 

 

 

 

How do I make a strong beginning?

5.1 How do I make a strong beginning?

Story-Strategy, Act 2 Episode 5 – The Journey: Current Reality 2

Upon entering the room where the workshop on Participatory Methods for Learning and Research on HIV/Aids and Sexual & Reproductive Health was to take place, an unusual sight met my eyes. Instead of people straggling into the room and finding a seat either around tables, behind desks or even in a circle, they were forming clusters and clumps around posters and pages of news print on the walls, markers in hand.  Was I late? Did they start without me? As I was wondering, a student came up to me: “Good morning, while we wait for everyone to arrive, take a moment and look at the pictures and posters on the walls. On the news print below them, just record any thoughts or associations that come up for you in relation to the pictures. Here is a marker to document your ideas.”

The year was 2008 and I was attending the first Drama for Life Conference at WITS University. The facilitator of the workshop was Ross Kidd. It was the first time I learned the value of beginning a workshop before it begins. The pictures on the walls were of gender stereo types and people’s typical reactions towards HIV. By recording our own thoughts as we looked at the pictures, we were all given an opportunity to become aware of our own positioning in relation to the story in the room as depicted by the title of the workshop. Before Ross Kidd had opened his mouth, we all had formed an opinion and had a story of our own to contribute.

Even if you did not want to be as highly participative as this, it is essential that you help delegates become present to the current reality regarding the story in the room. Most traditional speakers choose to do it by telling a story, raising a case study or citing some research results. However you chose to do it, step one of Story-Strategy is:

Sketch a picture of the current reality

(Once upon a time there was someone, somewhere in a certain fix). 

Every story begins with someone (character) somewhere (scene) in a certain fix (plot). Some examples: Little Red Riding Hood at the edge of the forest, wearing the same hood every day. Brave Heart in a particular time in history with his tribe getting murdered by the English. Harry Potter is in Privet Drive being mistreated by his family. The Game of Thrones begin with a young lord on the other side of The Wall (a monstrous wall of ice that marked the edge of the seven kingdoms) killed by walking dead…

In each case the scene is set in such a way that the reader, watcher or listener (from here on the audience) identifies with the plight of the character so as to be drawn into the story.

  • How do you acknowledge the current reality and the pain of your audience regarding the story in the room?
  • How do you help them acknowledge where they are?
  • How accurately do you sketch that current reality?
  • How deeply can you empathize with them?

If you remember the SHIFT model, you will know that telling them is not as effective as letting them tell you. Creative participation is essential so that people can connect their own stories to the story in the room. Yet, there are many ways to do this. It begins before the talk, workshop, or conference really begins. From the moment delegates arrive, it is the beverages you serve, the way you let them register, the conference pack or learning material you hand them, the way you set up the room and the way you as facilitator or trainer greet them at the door or from the platform.

The Double Journey

This is because there are two cycles of Story-Strategy – there is a ‘double journey’ at stake. First people must be drawn from outside the room to inside: not just physically, but also with their attention and emotion. Secondly, once willing to be ‘here’ they must be drawn from their current understanding of the issue in the room to a new perspective. First they cross a physical threshold from their everyday existence filled with partners, colleagues, kids, traffic and unanswered emails into the learning space. Then they must cross the threshold from their current understanding of the learning content e.g. customer service, leadership or Learning and Research on HIV/AIDS and Reproductive Health, to a fresh perspective i.e. the one that you as speaker, facilitator or trainer want to convey.

In the example above Ross Kidd did not have to pay much attention to the first threshold because we were already in conference mode, but the conference designers themselves sure had to do it. I remember a carefully planned foyer space with musicians setting a tone, and a clearly themed conference pack. I also remember Warren Nebe starting the conference with a story about Blue Beard, immediately capturing attention and focussing it on the theme of the conference: African Research in Applied Drama and Theatre. He was establishing current reality by asking us to identify the role we see ourselves playing using examples from the story: Are we the naïve one driven by instincts to open the forbidden door? Do we find ourselves overwhelmed and surrounded by bloodied bodies? Are we dealing with the old folk hiding the past?

More examples will follow in future posts. For now, just remember:

Begin before you begin