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The Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0048| April 9, 2002
7,700 Subscribers


Share Your Story
Storytelling is one of the most powerful methods to inform your audience while increasing participation and trust.

The Point

As the pace quickens in our high-speed society, it's increasingly important to turn at times, to good old fashioned story-telling--an ancient art that feeds the hungry soul. Coupled with pace is the fact that facilitators, being in 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. 

Telling a personal story to your group, that is of course relevant to the topic at hand, can be a fun, informative, and interesting way to move your group. While at the same time, introducing your humanity more fully into the room, and increasing participants' trust in you.

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

- Stories relating personal experiences are best for engendering trust.
- Stories should be succinct and interesting.
- Stories should contain some deeper message or meaning.
- Stories should be told well with appropriate emotional engagement by the storyteller.
- 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.

Now, let me tell you a story...


Long, long ago, when I was home for the summer after my freshman year of college, I secured a job with a pear-packing plant in an adjacent town. This was a manual labor job but involved a lot of variety. On any given day, I might be finishing metal parts in the machine shop, repairing fruit bins, doing light carpentry, general cleaning, etc.

Then one fine day, out of the blue, the boss strolled up to me with a push broom, a sweeping broom, and a dustpan in hand. This was the big boss of the whole plant I might add. Big John Bar was his name. He was a huge hulk of a man, with a brusque temperament that didn't exert much energy on pleasantries and could be just plain intimidating most of the time. 

He handed me the brooms and said, "I want you to sweep out the factory." I looked around at this huge factory that was around 50,000 square feet, and covered with machinery...conveyers, movers, shakers, and contraptions of every conceivable type, all bolted solid to the dirt and dust covered floor. 

I replied, "Which part of the factory?" Hoping against hope that this question would have some relevance.  He replied with the response I had most feared, "All of it."  I took the tools reluctantly and slowly began to survey what seemed like an impossible job of endless drudgery for a mere 19 year-old home for the summer.

I seriously considered quitting at this point, but something inside prompted me to at least give this a try. So I began pushing the broom. Stroke after endless stroke...stooping under machinery...clearing the dust...sweeping it into my dustpan...dumping dirt into the garbage can....hour after after day....sweeping and sweeping...nothing but sweeping. Just the broom and I in an endless dance.

I'm not sure when it happened, but somewhere around the second or third solid day of sweeping, something began to shift inside me. I was doing the sweeping the same way but I think that I must have surrendered to the job or something. I guess I stopped judging what I was doing and just did it. And in the midst of the simple and mindless act of sweeping, my mind came to rest...and began to reflect and review on my life to this point. It began to reflect on my place in the relationship to my parents, my sibling, my friends, my desires, my memories, my actions...thoughts and experiences all seemed to flow past in a continuous panorama of insights and healing. I actually began to experience a sense of peace, maybe even joy.

As coworkers walked by on their way to their next task, heads down, serious and unhappy looking, I found myself smiling big and yelling, "Good morning Jim! "How's it going Ralph? What are you up to today John?" I think people were a bit confused as to why I seemed so happy sweeping the whole damn factory.

That job took an entire week to do. Five days, eight hours a day of nothing but sweeping. In reality, five days was probably quite fast considering the scope of the job. Big John was even a little surprised when I returned to him a week later with the brooms in hand and smiling said, "All done!" To which he replied, "Already?" 

I think that once I began to embrace the job I noticed that I became very efficient and focused. And I could tell he was happy with how I handled this job. I think it was a bit of a test. What may have been a test for him actually turned into a "quest" for me. One that I would have never undertaken voluntarily. And one, the results of which, I would never have been able to anticipate.

Why did I tell you this story and how does it relate to facilitation? I guess I just wanted you to know me a little better. And to maybe be reminded of some things you may have forgotten in your own lives. And as a facilitator, though I could venture a guess as to what you got out of this story, I wouldn't dare do so. Instead, I hold it up as a mirror for you to reflect upon yourselves.  I look forward to your hearing about what you saw in this mirror. 


This week, use story telling in some way with your groups or in your life as a gift to others. Also, I'd love to hear what this story brought up for you, any insights around story-telling and facilitation that you'd be willing to share, or any story you'd like to share. Please email your comments to us.

cartoon image of a talking man.

Reader Survey 

What is your favorite "exercise" as a facilitator?

This week, we're asking you share with us your favorite experiential exercise you've either delivered or experienced as a facilitator or as a participant. 

Please send us your input and we'll send the entire collection to everyone who contributes.

If you know someone who might benefit and enjoy this newsletter, please send this link to a friend.

picture of Steve Davis, editor of the Master Facilitator Journal.

About the Author: 
Steve Davis is a Business and Life Coach facilitating others to reach  their full potential in their business and personal lives. Please email your stories, comments, suggestions, and ideas. Or call me at 800-216-3854. I'd love to hear from you. If you find this newsletter helpful, please forward it to your friends. Thanks for reading! 

In the Spotlight

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Thank you for reading this issue of the Master Facilitator Journal.  Look for your next issue on April 16, 2002.   

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