Methods & Tools

How to find stories for your blog post, newsletter, report, workshop, presentation

January 18, 2018 Blog Admin Let's Talk Visual, Methods & Tools

Rating: 4.0 out of 5


Remembering stories is a powerful skill. Including a story into the opening of a workshop, an e-discussion or your next presentation engages your audience. People love reading stories in blog post or newsletters; the stories allow you to underline your point. But how can you find stories? This blog shares 10 simple ways to retrace, notice, collect or reactivate stories.

 Nadia von Holzen, Learning Moments

You want to use stories for your next blog post, newsletter, quarterly report? You are looking for a compelling story to open your next workshop or e-discussion? “Mmmmh…., a story?” None is coming to mind? Sometimes stories are like butterflies. If you don’t catch them the moment they fly by, the story is gone.

So, how can you find stories?

Credit: United Workers Media Team Celebration - published on Flickr CC

Credit: United Workers Media Team Celebration – published on Flickr CC


Notice stories

“Where do I find stories?”  I think the answer has less to do with where to look and more to do with knowing what a story is in the first place.
Rob Rosenthal 

The storytellers from Anecdote say the first step is to notice stories; to become a storyteller you must become a story spotter. The infographic below helps to develop a feel for the elements of story: A specific moment (time and place), the protagonist involved and the dialogue between the protagonists, a sequence of events (something is happening), and a moment of change (the turning point in the story).

The first thing to do is to keep an ear out for time markers. You’ll be surprised at just how many stories start this way and it’s a great way to start noticing stories around you.
Shawn Callahan 

Infographic by Anecdote:

Spotting Oral Stories

PS: Anecdote invites you to take the story test:

Collect stories

As story spotter, it is easy to collect stories. Write the stories down: in a story booklet, a journal, on index cards pinned to the team’s white board, virtually on Evernote, or on the shared drive of your team. Outline the sequence of events, the character(s), place and time in rough words; give the story a title; add some words about what the story means to you; and when to use it.

Stories are inspired by stories

The informal coffee break is a good place for story spotting. Someone tells a story and that story is prompted by another story. Bring stories to the team meeting; your story might trigger more stories. Starting a team meeting with a short round of ‘stories of the month” also helps to develop and sharpen your team’s story mind.

Continue “old” stories

Another approach to find stories is to revisit old stories: What has happened in the meantime?

Take a look at your past work. See if there’s a story worth revisiting. Find out what’s new, what’s developed, what’s happened since you last reported the story that’s surprising and unexpected. In short, make the time between stories work to your advantage.
Rob Rosenthal 

Always ask for examples

With a story mind, you notice the potential stories behind opinions, statements and generalisations. Ask your talking partner for an example, a specific moment, to make her opinion concrete. There might be a valuable story.

Look, Listen and Ask. Observe people in action – where could that story be hiding? Listen to what people are telling each other – perhaps the story is embedded in what they are saying. Ask questions to find out where a story might be found.
Mary Alice Arthur

Work out loud

Let colleagues, partners and friends know that you are a story collector. Work out loud (WOL), share your work in progress and invite colleagues to make contributions to your next newsletter, blog post, speech, presentation.

You look for stories in your projects, programmes and initiatives?

Reactivate stories through a timeline

A timeline is a good way to retrace stories. Draw a timeline of your project on a sheet of paper and define the time frame, then add important milestones of your project or initiative (events, deadlines, visits, reports etc.). Jointly with the team, comb through your experiences, listen carefully and uncover the hidden stories: What has happened? Who was present? What feelings can we remember? Was there a moment of change, conflict or tension; a breakthrough?

Photos and artefacts

Photos or other little souvenirs from team retreats, field visits, conferences and flipcharts, documents, websites, and newsletters help to remember stories. Flipping through the photos brings forgotten memories back. Remembering events, places, people,  and times helps to reactive stories.

Story circle

An oral story circle brings storytellers together; you focus on sharing, discovering and shaping your stories.

Sharing story ideas in the circle helps clarify what the stories are really about. It is an intense group process of joint reflection and inquiry that is meaningful for everyone involved.
Darcy Alexandra and Nadia von Holzen

You can find some ideas how to organize a story circle


Questions trigger stories. Or you can use the interview technique in small settings (in pairs or trios) in the search for forgotten stories.

We learned that questions that brought the listener to a point in time worked well. So did the questions that conjured an emotion or a strong mental picture.
Mark Schenk and Shawn Callahan

Anecdote offers a free e-book with 170 story-eliciting questions: Character Trumps Credentials: 170 questions that help leaders find and tell great stories.

What’s your approach to find stories?

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