Story seeds: magic beans for instant engagement

Even if I’m not explicitly doing story work with a group, I still use stories for warm-ups, ice-breakers and energizers. One of my favourite activities is something I call StorySeeds. It’s a super quick and simple way to do introductions. But more importantly, it creates instant bonds – and makes every person memorable.

All you do is go around the group and have each person say her name, plus one unusual thing about herself. No more, no less. And I always kick it off myself – deliberately choosing something unusual that also opens me up and makes me vulnerable. This is key, as it immediately establishes a sense of safety for others. “I’m Denise Withers and a monkey once peed on my head.”

I love this exercise for a few reasons:

  • We don’t introduce ourselves by roles, titles or functions. So we drop all the up-front power credentials people bring to the room.
  • People always find common ground - among others they’ve known for decades and folks they just met.
  • People always want to know more. They want to know the story behind the unusual fact. Why did that happen?
  • That curiosity becomes great fodder for discussions during breaks. You now have an authentic conversation starter that lets you approach and talk to anyone. No more nervous or awkward, forced icebreakers.
  • The unusual fact instantly makes you memorable. Because everyone has something unique to share. Even if others don’t remember your name, they’ll remember you.
  • There’s always laughter and genuine emotion during this exercise - which creates great energy and sets a positive tone.
  • This serves as great practice for active listening. No questions are allowed. Shut up and listen.
  • It’s fast. No long-winded backstories about why you’re here or what happened last time. We can get to work with new, positive bonds in less than five minutes.

So next time you’re leading a meeting or course or get-together of any kind, plant some StorySeeds. You’ll be amazed at what grows.