Using Storytelling When Facilitating Meetings

What happens to your thinking when I say, “Let me tell you about the time…”?   If you are like most of us your attention sparked and you thought, “I wonder what’s coming next?”  Stories pique interest and curiosity.  And both of these qualities are useful for you as a meeting leader. 

Humans love a good story. We love sharing them and hearing them. Stories illustrate our successes, failures, adventures, lessons, morals, and the values we hold dear. Stories have a unique way of stimulating the listener’s desire to think as well as to feel something about what you are saying.

So, right about now you might be wondering, what is the role of stories when facilitating meetings?  At their best, stories create a sense of connection, build trust, allow the listener to enter the conversation where they are, and often can contain more than one meaning.  Thus, when it comes to using stories in facilitation, consider these four use cases:  

  1. Stories convey lessons and provide examples that are easily understood and relatable. Sometimes when you are seeking to persuade meeting participants to support the reason you are meeting, you use complicated logical arguments to shift their thinking. A good story can often be more effective because it is usually something people can immediately grasp. Consider telling the story of how you got to the need for today’s meeting.
  2. Stories are easier to recall in tense moments than theories or concepts. When a facilitator is in a difficult situation and experiencing anxiety because the group has stalled, they can sometimes freeze up.  It is at that moment that stories be valuable.  It can help to tell the meeting’s story and then have the audience feedback why they are meeting and why it is important to get past the current sticking point.  Doing so provides you the space and time to settle back into the facilitator role and get the audience back to work on the meeting’s purpose.
  3. Stories are very useful as a tactic to disarm the reluctant participant. Stories often seem to come from an outsider’s perspective – even when it is a story that the group experienced together.  In addition, stories have a way of disarming the skeptical participant and naturally drawing them in.  A story can get them to listen in a way that other means of persuasion don’t seem to be able to accomplish.  
  4. Stories can shift the conversation to a more productive realm. One of the biggest challenges in a difficult audience is to shift nay-sayers from a competitive approach to a more cooperative one. Effective stories have a way of seamlessly helping a facilitator make this difficult shift without having to directly confront the difficult people in the meeting.  It can be as simple as summarizing the meeting’s story and then asking the difficult people how to write a positive end to that story—an ending that works for everyone involved, not just their interests.

Whether it is making a point in the facilitation, helping you manage a difficult interaction, disarming your objectors, or getting participants to shift from competition to cooperation, think about how to use stories at different junctures in the meeting process and you will have added another useful tool to your facilitator’s toolkit.

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