3/26/2012 - StoryBlog
Graphic Model for a Story Circle
Back in 2010, at Timpanogos, I took a great workshop with Doug Lipman, The Storytellers' Coach. In that workshop, Doug gave us some real insight into appreciations (see my article on appreciations) and how he structures both his group and individual coaching sessions. I am indebted to him for setting a framework, for not only coaching, but for other types of gatherings of storytellers.

I had been involved in a few different "story circles" in various venues. Most of them had rules or guidelines, some of them even had a poster with a list of rules. The goal of most of the circles was to give tellers an outlet to tell, and if desired, some feedback on their story and their telling. Appreciations were always given immediately following the telling, but often, from there, the process seemed to deteriorate. It had no clear structure.
Frequently, a group member would give an appreciation, immediately followed by a "suggestion", or even a critique. "I liked the way you used your voice...but I think you should stand in one place." This had the effect of negating the appreciation. People would jump in at any time, talking over each other, "I think you should start with the color red." "Oh I disagree, it should be green." "Maybe you shouldn't start with a color at all." It had little clarity for the teller.
My colleague, Janet Means, approached me to co-facilitate a story circle during the summer. We felt this was an opportunity to bring some structure and clarity to the whole process. As I am a visual person, I wanted to create some sort of graphic that would encapsulate everything I had learned from Doug. My goal was to help people understand and follow the process, and make a better experience for the teller and the entire group. Here is the graphic I created and now use (with Doug's blessing and permission).
The outer ring shows the principles: The Teller is in charge, we believe in success, what is said is confidential unless the teller specifically agrees otherwise; all this creates a safe place for the teller.
The list of the steps is pretty straight forward, and we don't go beyond the place that the teller is willing to go. After appreciations, I ask if the teller has any questions for the group. Then, is the teller willing to hear questions from the group? Are they willing to receive positive suggestions? I ask people to frame their suggestions in a positive way. Most recently, I like Karen Langford Chace's idea of framing a suggestion as "I wonder if...?" Finally, I ask if there is anything else the teller needs?
Liz Warren, Director of the Storytelling Institute at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix liked the graphic, and they now use it too. I also like the way Liz frames Appreciations: "Tell [Mark] what you appreciated and liked about the way [he] crafted the story and the way [he] told it."
One other thing I learned from Doug and use: During each phase, we ask that people raise their hand and let the teller call on them. This keeps the teller in control, keeps people from jumping in and out, and allows the teller to fully take in the appreciation, question or suggestion before moving on.
A note for suggestion givers: Think about who the teller is, and what would enhance their way of telling vs. If I were telling the story, this is how I would do it.
A note for tellers: Doug often tells people (and I do too) that, "Suggestions are like grocery store coupons. Sometimes you feel you can use them, and sometimes you might put them in your pocket and decide later whether or not they might be useful.
If you are interested, the graphic is available in 3' x 3' hi-res (300 DPI) JPG format or a PDF. E-mail me and I will send you the links.

©Mark Goldman 2012

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For more information contact Mark Goldman - 602-390-3858 - Mark@Storytellermark.com


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