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Listening for the story

meeting ( CC-BY-ND Simon Blackley via Flickr)

How do we collect stories? How do we know which stories to collect, and why? For that matter, what is a story, in the sense that we use it in Zahmoo?

For practical answers to those questions above, one of our best resources is the Anecdote website. If we need ideas about how to use story for family-history and the like, or to help our community work better, or our business succeed in its aims, that’s one of the first place we would go for advice.

For example, how do we collect stories? The first part, perhaps, is to pick a good place and time, and get ready. But once there, what we need next is story-triggering, to get people talking along the lines that we need. There’s a great post about this on the Anecdote weblog: ‘Storytelling for non-storytellers‘, with a really helpful list of ‘open questions’, to encourage people to give us answers that are more than just ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Use those questions with the improv technique of ‘yes-and’ to lead our storytellers to tell us more.

Another key skill we need is story-listeningactively listening to our story-tellers. For advice on that, see the Anecdote post ‘Listening, mentoring, storytelling‘: for example, it’s important to remove distractions, ask good ‘open-questions’, keep the flow going by telling stories too, and show that we are listening:

Body language is the other way to show you’re listening. You know what to do. I find it fascinating to watch body language in our workshops. When we are sharing opinions people lean back and have that “prove it to me” look on their faces, but when are sharing stories everyone leans forward.

We also need to know what makes a useful story. What we look for, in the everyday flow of narrative, are specific key items:

  • the players, the actors in the story, their respective roles – though note that in a business-context especially, these can sometimes be machines as well as people
  • the plan or the place – the context of the story
  • the events – the structure and sequence of ‘what happened next’
  • the trigger that makes it into a true story: “something unexpected happened”

That’s what we need: people, place, events, and ‘something unexpected happened’ – because it’s in that ‘unexpected’ that key learnings take place, that a family or community or business learns more about what they stand for and who they really are. To bring this all together, see the Anecdote post ‘Making the most of story-work‘: it’ll help you a lot in gaining the best value from your stories.

And remember too that whilst stories themselves are important, they’re only one small part of what can be done with story-work in business and elsewhere. Take a look at some of the other resources on the Anecdote website, such as the whitepaper ‘How to use stories to size up a situation‘: there’s a lot of value there. And, when we use it to the full, a lot of value also to be gained from the stories and metadata that we collect in our Zahmoo story-bank. Use it well, and have fun with it, too!

Image credit: Difficult meeting by Simon Blackley under a Creative Commons licence http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/deed.en

December 19th, 2011 by Zahmoo
Filed in: For Business, For Community, For Family, How to
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Zahmoo is a story bank for collecting and sharing your family and business stories.