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

 

What are the components of Story-Strategy?

What are the components of Story-Strategy?

Story-Strategy Act 2 Episode 4 continue – The Magic Weapon

Story-Strategy is the big picture sequential design and the poignant delivery of messages and events that take people from where they are to where they could be.

Every good story-strategy, like every good story, has a well designed beginning, middle and end. Each of these three can be divided into three more sections so that your beginning leaves no-one behind, your middle keeps everyone riveted and your end leaves them changed forever.

Here are the components of each:

Beginning

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

At the beginning of Cinderella we find her in the ashes dominated by an evil stepmother and two spoilt step sisters.

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 and how deeply can you empathize with them?

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

Cinderella and her sisters get an invitation to the prince’s ball…

What new opportunity or possibilities do you/your material or programme open up? How do you communicate these possibilities? How do you allow your audience to begin dreaming a new dream?

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

Yet, Cindy cannot see her way open to attend: she will exhaust her time and energy in helping her sisters get ready and anyway, she does not have a dress…

Neuroscience dictates that anything new brings about mixed feelings of excitement and fear along with actual obstacles that could hold you back.

How do you make room for these mixed emotions that relate to the new possibilities you are opening up? How do we allow for a conversation on the doubts/reservations people may have? How do we make room for them to identify obstacles and debate pros and cons?

The middle

4. Preparing for the journey (Because of this characters receive magic weapons, a clear plan and a mentor that help to bring safety and build confidence)

 

The fairy godmother appears with her magic to make a plan and send Cindy on her way. She proves her point by giving her a coach, horses, coachman and a dress.

What specific model, plan or strategy do you offer to guide participants through? Whose plan or strategy is it and why should it be trusted? Do you give a quick overview or big picture perspective before delving into detail? Can you give a short example or story that brings it home?

5.  The Journey itself (Tests and trials along the way, meeting friends and enemies)

At the ball Cindy meets her Prince and dances all night and deeply connects with each other. She plays at being royal, pretty and rich, but forgets to watch the time. When she flees the scene as the clock strikes, all seems lost…

What are the key tasks and who is the tribe that typify the journey to the new reality? How do we structure the steps/processes of the solution? How do we help people practice new skills increasing the level of difficulty?  How do we build relationship in the tribe that travels together?

6. Rewarding valiant effort (Finally there is a breakthrough and characters receive short term benefit).

The prince rushes after her and there on the steps he discovers her glass slipper and with it the promise of finding her again.

How do we celebrate breakthroughs and frame insights? How do we reward participation and risks people take in reaching into unfamiliar territory? Neuroscience again shows how people are motivated by a sense of reward. This can be given in the form of a feeling of accomplishment, of being appreciated by others, or of receiving input that is relevant and applicable to them personally.

The ending

7. Return (With new found insight characters return to their world to apply it)

While Cindy is back in squalor, the prince (as representation of her other half) now return to the village to look for her, trying to fit the slipper on every possible girl that seems likely.

What strategy or structure do you use to help people apply your model or new ideas to their personal contexts? How do you help them not just see its possible use, but actually try it out? Can you come up with a simulation that help you do this?

8. Commitment and sacrifice (After trying new ideas in practical contexts, the characters discover that they will need to sacrifice something of their old life to make room for a new commitment)

When the prince finds her, he must let go of his expectation of a ‘likely’ candidate and accept that his queen might be a serving girl…

How do you call them to commitment in adopting the new ideas and behaviours? How do you inspire them to let go of old patterns that may interfere with the shift they want to achieve?

9. Integrating new ideas to form a new current reality (Now everyday characters live in a new state different from before, but stable and integrated)

As the prince slips the glass shoe onto Cindy’s foot, poor and rich merge, servant and queen become one…

What first steps, tools and support structures do they leave with for integrating new ideas and actions into their everyday lives? How fully can we, as journey guides, ‘die’ so that we are not needed when people are back in their everyday lives.

And they live happily ever after.