Facilitate Through Storytelling

Facilitate Through Storytelling

As the pace quickens in our high-speed society, it’s increasingly important to turn at times, to good old-fashioned storytelling – an ancient art that feeds the hungry soul. This is especially true when taking on the role of facilitator for a group. Coupled with pace is the fact that facilitators, being at the front of the room as they are, tend to be viewed as authority figures by many participants, even if only subconsciously. While we tend to ascribe lofty characteristics upon authority figures, it can be valuable to your group to dissolve these potential misconceptions with mild doses of reality from time to time.

One of my favorite team building icebreakers is storytelling. It is one of the most effective methods to engage, teach, and increase group participation and trust. It is my belief that telling a personal story is one of the very few magical moments that a facilitator cannot be judged by an audience. That is huge!

Storytelling Sets Aside Judgement

We are always judging. Always, always, always. That mental radio voice in our heads yaps and yaps constantly about:

  • Traffic
  • Bosses
  • Peers
  • Family
  • Strangers
  • Facilitators

We basically judge anything that moves within eyesight. When we kick out judgement, we are open to learn, grow, and take risks. Those are the teachable moments for which we strive. Telling a personal story to your group, that is of course relevant to the topic at hand, can be that teachable moment. A story has the power to move the group in a fun, informative, and interesting way. A personal story also introduces your humanity more fully into the room, increasing participants’ trust in you as a facilitator.

Engender Trust with Personal Experiences

What are the elements of a good story? Off the top of my head, I’d say that stories that support group process would have some of the following characteristics:

  • Stories should be succinct and interesting.
  • Stories should contain some deeper message or meaning.
  • The storyteller should tell stories well with appropriate emotional engagement.
  • The story should somehow relate to what you’re trying to do as a group and should ideally move the group forward.
  • The story should not be used to avoid or dance around what’s up for the group.
  • The story should not involve anyone who would take offense to it being told publicly.

To understand my point better, let me tell you story…

Years ago, during my rookie year as an Algebra teacher, I was invited to go on my very first backpacking trip. Several students, parents, and teachers from my school arranged a 6-day trip to the High Sierras in Northern California.

I couldn’t wait. What a great opportunity to network, have some fun, and experience gorgeous scenery. I hardly knew anyone. And I never backpacked.

On the 3rd day, we had our biggest challenge: 6 miles of switch-backs straight up a mountain pass. By noon, we were one third the way there and everyone was dispersed into different groups. Somehow I was traveling alone.

I loved the moment. I was free to travel my own pace.

I was thoroughly enjoying the magnificent scenery and I was carrying everything I own on my back. I remember how thrilling it was to be so self-contained. My home was on my back. It was a magical moment in time for me to feel so alive and free.

I remember clearly how blue the sky was as I neared the top. The closer I got, the more blue I saw. Finally, I reached the top. I was “King of the Mountain”!

I held my arms up high and yelled loudly that I was “King of the World”. I waited for the rest of the group to join me. I enjoyed being the first one. No, I relished being the first one. Man, did I fly up that mountain.

I loved that moment. I felt confident, contented, fulfilled, and happy.

No one showed. I hadn’t seen a single person since noon. It was nearly dark. My mood switched quickly to worry, fear, and loneliness. What had happened?

I fixed my dinner and I spent the night alone under the stars in my sleeping bag. All kinds of thoughts roared into my head. I tried hard to eliminate the scary thoughts. Finally, after counting my 35th shooting star, I relaxed.

At that defining moment in the middle of the night, I focused on where I was. I was alive, well fed, warm, and underneath the most gorgeous sky I had ever seen. I smiled. I slept.

I woke up to the the sounds of familiar people. It was my group! The leader said that I had taken the route up a different mountain, and he knew which one. It had been too late to start a rescue party, so they all left at 3 am that next morning to greet me at my camp.

Why did I share this story and how does it relate to facilitation? I tell this true story in my programs to find out what others might have picked up from listening to it. This immediately engages the participants. As soon as they share their take, they let down their guard and any preconceived notions about the session. As a result, I gain their trust and we are able to readily approach team work challenges. I also love finding out how their lessons are different from mine. That is where I grow and learn as a facilitator.

Need a Trustworthy Facilitator for Your Next Event?

Larry Lipman of Fun Team Building has been facilitating sessions to foster teamwork in the workplace for over 20 years. He can structure a corporate team building day to help your organization strengthen existing work teams. Contact Larry to learn more or schedule an event at 770-333-3303!

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