No sweat – the myth that getting hold of stories is difficult

Published by Tony Quinlan on

There is a moment of great relief that comes in every client’s experience – the moment when the stories start to come in. And then the delight that not only are they coming in, but they’re coming in volume!

There is a belief in the communications world that getting hold of real-life stories is really difficult. And for good reason – if you’ve ever been responsible for a newsletter or website or internal magazine, then gathering decent content for it was always tough. It meant having to tap up the same people in your social network, try to gather material out of senior managers and, on occasion, build a weak story into something more important than it really rates.

So the current talk about gathering and using stories to understand culture then looks less straightforward:

“We struggle to find 20 stories per month for the newsletter/intranet – and now we need hundreds?!?”

But the truth is that it’s easy – but we were going about to the wrong way in the past. So we stopped hunting out individual stories and then grilling the person we thought could tell us the details so that we could tell their story for them. Instead, we started to create the right environment for people with stories to come to us, while we sat there and listened. Good examples include:

  • Customer complaints website
  • The social club
  • The intranet
  • Video/audio booths at customer events or exhibitions
  • Citizen consultation sessions
  • Patient feedback websites

All places that we’ve known stories come in – just too many and we don’t want to have to deal with them because they’re often negative.

For specific programmes, however, anecdote circles are still an easy way to gather large volumes of stories. As long as that’s not your sole intention – the emphasis needs to be on the process and people’s interactions. The stories emerge naturally from that point.

Think the Four Yorkshiremen from Monty Python – that’s the dynamic that quickly becomes established…

For those running anecdote circles, there are a number of good places to start:

But, as quickly becomes evident to anyone who does it, it’s not difficult and it’s not risky. It just needs the right environment and the confidence to let it happen. After that, you’ve got plenty of material to work with.

[Slight re-edits thanks to advice from the estimable David Tebbutt]


Shawn Callahan · 15 October 2010 at 2:03 am

It’s true, collecting stories can be very straight forward. Here is another example to add to the approaches you described. A few months back I facilitated a group of 200 people and started the day with a jumpstart storytelling session ( At the end of the session we asked everyone to write down and tag their story. 200 stories in 30 minutes.

Tony Quinlan · 17 October 2010 at 8:19 pm

Another good one – haven’t tried that one yet. In a ditting spirit, when we were running Children of the World in Pakistan, we collected over 300 from a single classroom via the web. The pupils all got competitive and away they went – all stories signified beautifully too!

Comments are closed.