Facilitating a Story Circle
- Create an atmosphere that allows for successful listening and speaking. Set a tone of warmth, friendliness, ease, respect, and inclusiveness, with just enough authority to show that you’re in charge.
- Introduce yourself and offer a brief comment about why you are a Storyscope facilitator.
- Check to make sure everyone feels welcome and that all participants have name tags. Sometimes the name on a nametag can be hard to read or might be obscured, so you may want to ask everyone to state their name as they begin their story.
- Restate the theme and story prompts. Explain that everyone in the circle is expected to share, no spectators.
- Explain that there is a time limit of approximately 3 minutes and that you’ll be keeping time. 3 minutes is a soft target, no need for a buzzer to go off, but you do need to keep things moving in fairness to others in your circle and in fairness to the other circles. Our experience thus far is that some people take longer, and some people don’t use the full 3 minutes, so it averages out and there’s no need to be overbearing. But if you plan to use specific cues if people run long, such as a hand signal for “time to wrap up” at 4 minutes and then intervening verbally at 5 minutes, explain those cues before stories begin.
- Explain that we sit with the stories rather than respond immediately. There will be an opportunity to reflect later. As each story concludes, a nod, a smile, a breath, a simple “thank you” will suffice before moving on to the next one.
- Ask for a volunteer to begin with a story. You can go clockwise, counterclockwise, or randomly. In any case, you can let people pass for the moment if they’re not ready. If no one is ready, use your own story to start.
- Monitor the 3-minute time limit. Take a breath, give the nod when you’re ready for the next person, go with your instinct as to how much of a pause is needed between stories. Be careful not to praise any one story or participant because that sets up disparity.
- Monitor and curb immediate responses in between stories. You can’t ensure an equal level of response to each story so it’s best to have no response, except the breath of appreciation, until all stories have been told and it’s time to reflect.
- If your circle is done sharing stories but other circles are not you can start a discussion, thanking one another for the stories and reflecting on what was said and heard. Discourage critiques of storytelling technique, focus on how the stories illuminate the theme and any common threads and/or differences that emerge. We mean “differences” in the sense that we have all walked different paths, but we never disagree with or disparage someone else’s lived experience. For example, in one circle a participant’s story involved serving time in prison and another participant mentioned that he’d never had that experience. That’s a difference worthy of acknowledgment. But if anyone had criticized the person for having served time, or questioned the authenticity of the person’s experience, the facilitator would have intervened. Our personal stories are not contestable.
- When the host calls for the circles to wrap up and to reconvene as one for reflection, guide your story circle participants back to the larger group.
The Flow of a Storyscope Story Circles Event
Prior to the Event:
- Set up chairs audience-style if possible, so the event can begin with all participants assembled in one group (participants will help move chairs into circles later).
- Set up a welcome station with refreshments, name tags, a handout explaining the theme and story prompts, a media release (permission to be photographed/recorded), and an email signup list. (Try using a laptop for email signup; deciphering handwritten names and email addresses can be challenging.)
- Open, the venue, greet people, and direct them to welcome station, answer questions, encourage people to socialize.
- Whenever possible, Storyscope events feature guest artists who interpret the theme through the performing arts and visual arts.
- Opening remarks. The host welcomes participants, explains the purpose and goal of story circles and Storyscope, explains the theme and prompts, explains how the event will unfold, introduces story circle facilitators, and guest artists.
- The host leads an exercise to help people understand what we mean by “story.” For example, the host can explain or demonstrate basic story structure (normal – change – new normal), and/or ask participants to turn to the person next to them and share one-minute stories on the theme (a good way to get all participants talking). This may be a good time to point out what we’re not looking for, such as political screeds. For example, if the theme is “Health,” and someone has a story that involves government policy, we’d want to hear how he or she was personally affected by the policy, not an opinion about the policy.
- Listening guide: difference between hearing and listening. Focus, attentiveness, intent and effort. For example, when you are hiking and you can hear shuffling and birds. When you stop to listen, you can identify a cactus wren or sparrow.
- Break out into circles. Story circles of 6-10 people are formed with assigned facilitators. If only 10-12 people are in attendance, the host may decide that only one circle is needed. Otherwise, the host does a count off. For example, if three circles are needed, the host assigns a number to each person in attendance: “1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3…” until everyone has a number, then
- The breakout begins. The breakout itself should be part of the experience, an orderly and peaceful transition to the story circles.
- Story circles. (See Facilitating A Story)
- When all story circles have finished, the host reconvenes the participants as one group, another ritual of transition.
- The host leads the group through a reflection – processing the event through comments and questions. “Did you feel a connection to another person’s story?” “How did the theme play out in your group?” “How were the stories similar or different?” The host closes the event, thanks participants, makes announcements (upcoming events, sign up for email list at the welcome station, etc.), and welcomes everyone to stay for refreshments and to socialize and make connections. The closing might include a call and response, with the host encouraging participants to shout out one word that best captures their experience in the story circle or story circle event. Or, a guest artist might share a word cloud or found a poem that was created during the event. The random assignment of numbers often means that people who come to the event together end up in different circles. This is by design, so participants can meet new people and hear new stories. Exceptions are made, for example, if a person depends on his or her companion for assistance.