Who are theWholeStory?

As we headed back to Mumbai International Airport following a sweltering month of training young actors in storytelling, Josh and I realised that we wanted this working partnership to continue. We founded theWholeStory, as we were both curious as to how storytelling could be used. My background was in directing and Josh was a storytelling performer so we knew storytelling was fundamental to theatre and art. And we recognised that in everyday communication we all use story (what has happened, is happening and will happen) with the spoken word, to help us share our experience of the world with each other.

But we wanted to look at how it could be exploited further to help organisations and the individuals within them, to communicate better and also to understand and develop their ideas and actions too. Or put simply, work out what they want to do and how to talk about it.

As has become the basis of all we do, we started to work very practically to unpick storytelling. We investigated what storytelling could do by teaching people to use its skills and techniques, and then exploring with them how they would use it.

When we started the company, Josh and I could see there was a natural way storytelling could help and enhance the way people spoke and presented. But what we soon saw was that the exercises we were using worked as much on what people were saying, as how they were saying it. Our participants started to understand and/or develop the subject as they worked on how to communicate it as a story. They started to shape what was going to happen, find new ideas or create solutions.

As we responded to the needs and issues of our clients (such as the NHS, AXAPPP, EY, Balfour Beatty Rail, Sotheby’s, Directors of Public Health, Civil Servants) we developed workshops, facilitation and training to meet 4 areas of application:

All of these applications have value in organisations where you need to share ideas or plans, in order to affect some form of change so that you engage your customers, partners, employees or other stakeholders and develop the organisation.

Since then, as our client list grows and the variety of training we offer grows, one fundamental truth has stood the test of time: it’s not just what you say that matters, but also how you say it. Storytelling ensures your messages have purpose, you have an authentic voice, and therefore more than being heard, you are remembered and your messages are acted on.

Lily Pender

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South London Gallery and Camden Arts Centre. Welcoming Visitors and Enhancing their Visit

Beginning

The two galleries were working together to explore how they could best support their front of house teams to improve their visitor experience. Camden Arts Centre and South London Gallery were both keen to ensure that their FoH teams could give a strong and consistent standard of care to their customers, that their customer service policies were up to date and active, and that FoH could understand and support the overall aims and ambitions of different departments.

Middle

We delivered a workshop to each site, making small changes to ensure each workshop fitted slightly different outcomes.

The participants worked in groups to consider the experience of their visitors; how they host them and represent or embody the centre/gallery. They explored who their visitors are and how they can perceive and go on to experience the centre and gallery differently and therefore need to be approached differently to meet different needs or expectations.

Working in small groups they worked out how, through interaction and conversations, they could each change the route a visitor takes and in doing so extend and enlarge their experience.

Drawing on the experience and knowledge of the group they created a resource of content and interaction; what they could say and how they could say it, what they can do and how they can do it. This included information a visitor might need to know, and also what could be said to encourage a visitor to do or see more, to buy something, join the mailing list or to donate.

Pulling together the day’s work the groups started to capture what they believed to be important about how they can take responsibility for the experience visitors have. These points and practical actions and behaviours started to encapsulate what would become a Visitor Service Guide.

End

The FoH teams continued to develop their Visitor Service Guide based on what they had done in the day. The Guide would allow the staff to have an agreed level of quality that they could all take responsibility for realising, in a practical way.

The workshop allowed the staff to see how they all needed to be more aware of how they could all welcome visitors at any location in the gallery or centre. The workshop resulted in the participants seeing less of a division or difference between how someone in the bookshop or how a gallery assistant speaks to a visitor.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London

Beginning

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London wanted all their visitor facing staff (catering, car parks, retail, admissions, interactors…) to be more proactive about initiating and having conversations with visitors, towards, ideally, sharing a story about the Harry Potter films.

Middle

We designed a 1-day workshop, in collaboration with the managers of all departments that would accommodate staff with different experience and job roles. The workshop provided an opportunity for the participants to identify the different appropriate levels of interaction they could have with visitors: with awareness for where they met visitors within the studio, what different positive outcomes a conversation could have and what could and should be said or included in the conversation. All participants also developed a story they could share with a visitor about the Harry Potter films and how they were made. The creation of the story also gave participants a set of techniques they could use to colour the quality of how they communicate. At the end of the day the participants practiced (with each other) how they would approach visitors, involve them in a conversation and share their story.

End

Mixing participants from all teams and departments initially demonstrated the differences between their roles but as the day went on the different teams started to see that they were collectively responsible and all able to enhance someone’s visit. Working together for the day allowed them to meet each other and get to know how they could send on and receive visitors to and from each other throughout the whole studio. Some individuals who had been terrified by the idea of having to talk about the making of the films realised they had more to offer to visitors. More confident and experienced staff were able to share their knowledge and were challenged to re think and refresh their practice too.

The V&A Welcoming and Introducing Visitors to the Museum

Beginning

The Victoria & Albert Museum has a large and strong team of volunteers who are present in the entrance to the museum to welcome visitors, answer questions and guide them to different galleries.

Since the V&A was aware that half their visitors were new and that many people are unsure of what the museum is about they wanted to develop the volunteers’ role so that they could be more proactive about approaching visitors and be able to share a small story that would introduce the museum.

Middle

We worked with approximately 80 volunteers (in groups of 10-16) who took part in 2 different workshops to develop how and why they could approach and interact with visitors to enhance their visit and how to create and share a story that illustrated and explained the past and present (and sometimes future) life of the museum. The groups included established volunteers and recent recruits who were all invited to investigate and conclude what their responsibilities were and how they could best put them in to practice. They were encouraged to think as practically as possible and to identify where they had the power to improve someone’s visit. The volunteers developed content that, given the opportunity, they could include in a conversation with a visitor. We found solutions to how to include information about tricky subjects such as donations and “cross selling” without them being confrontational or demanding.

The second workshop worked towards giving the volunteers a set of techniques they could use to generally improve how they communicate the museum and its collection’s stories, and in particular looked at what story they could tell visitors as a way to introduce them to what the museum is. Volunteers could choose their own subject, allowing them to work with what interested them so that visitors could have their interest ignited by each volunteer’s particular enthusiasms.

End

The training allowed the V&A to raise the overall quality of how their volunteers interacted with visitors; in how they care for them and in how they engage them with the museum. Volunteers came away having explored how their role, to offer face to face interaction with visitors, fits within the rest of the museum and its overall aims. The storytelling techniques helped the volunteers to share what they know and love about the museum with their visitors in a descriptive, vibrant, spontaneous, visitor centred style.

1 day INSET for a Primary School Hertfordshire Primary School

Beginning

Following a recommendation we were contacted, by the Head, about what INSET we could provide to inspire and develop pupils’ writing, especially with able children. The workshop would need to take in to account the different ages the teachers worked with

Middle

We suggested a day of storytelling training that would enable the staff to confidently put down their books and enchant and inspire their class with stories. The training also included ways in which to facilitate activities to inspire young writers to create work of greater variety and imagination. The training was based upon our own experience and success of using storytelling to ignite children’s imaginations and enthusiasm for writing.

End

The practical nature of the workshop allowed the participants to understand the use of storytelling through the experience of doing it and by placing themselves in the children’s shoes. The staff finished the day with a long list of new ways to use storytelling with their classes and as a team. Later the same week we delivered a storytelling workshop to Year 2, while an OFSTED inspector visited, who was very impressed with our activity and the school received ‘good with outstanding features’ across the board.

”It reminded me of the importance and strength of storytelling and how widely it can impact on learning.”

Workshop Participant, INSET day Hartsbourne School, Herts

Back to educations

Storytelling Masterclasses at Teachers’ Conference Cambridge Education @ Islington

Beginning

Cambridge Education @ Islington run an annual conference aimed at providing junior and primary schools teachers with additional tools with which to bring reading and writing to life within the classroom. They were looking to add to their list of authors and poets, who delivered both talks and workshops, by offering a masterclass in storytelling.

Middle

We were asked to create and deliver 2 x 90-minute workshops to help teachers working with children from nursery through to year six to become more confident, fluent and creative storytellers. Within our workshop, we taught participants a process which enabled them to each read a traditional folktale and make it their own. Through a series of exercises they each discovered their own voice and ability as storytellers, and finished the session with note-free performances.

End

The participants were delighted to find they were able to learn, personalise and tell a story in such a short period of time. In the discussion at the end, they shared ways in which they would be able to translate and apply the techniques within their work, not only to improve their communication, but also to improve that of their pupils. Cambridge @ Islington were so pleased with the feedback they received regarding our sessions, we were invited back for the following year’s conference, to teach a further masterclass on creating group stories.

‘”It has made me so enthusiastic to tell my class a story”

Participant Islington Primary Schools Conference

 

Back to educations

Everybody Writes Launch in Croydon (INSET)

Beginning

Everybody Writes is an approach to writing aimed at making it enjoyable and relevant for young people. To launch themselves within Croydon, they had a day of activities for primary school English teachers to help them develop their own creativity and understand how to plan new and exciting projects. TheWholeStory were asked to provide a practical element to the day.

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Our section of the day was to be both fun, informative, relevant, challenging and creative. We started with storytelling performance to model the differences and benefits of telling stories without the aid of books, before going through the process of preparing a story for performance.

End

By the end of the morning, we had a great atmosphere with everyone on their feet layering up their story, creating their own unique versions. The session ended by reflecting on what had been learned, how it could best be applied back in their schools to help children with their writing. We also shared a selection of our favourite writing activities stimulated by storytelling.

Storytelling for a Primary School

Beginning

A primary school approached us wanting storytelling performance for their KS1. They found that most storytellers were more comfortable with KS2, but wanted the little ones to also enjoy a visit.

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We discussed the sort of sessions we could offer, since we are always delighted to visit both KS1 and 2. As they were a 3-form entry, it was decided that the storytelling would take place in the hall, to ensure that one and a half of each year group class could hear the storytelling at a time. This ensured everyone would enjoy the performance without the groups becoming too large.

End

We delivered 30-minute sessions with Reception, to include stories as well as nursery rhymes and songs for the children to take part in. Years 1 and 2 each received 45-minutes of performance, which they then created responses to in their classrooms, by drawing their favourite animals from the stories they had heard. Both the teachers and children were captivated by the energetic, detailed and humorous stories they got to see.

Storytelling Activities for a Secondary School

Beginning

We were approached by the Literacy Coordinator of a secondary school as they were having real difficulty getting their year 7s and 8s to write complex sentences, paragraphs and stories. They felt that a workshop with a storyteller, at the start of the school year, might inspire their young writers, and help the new ones get a feel for the library and resource centre.

Middle

We were approached by the Literacy Coordinator of a secondary school as they were having real difficulty getting their year 7s and 8s to write complex sentences, paragraphs and stories. They felt that a workshop with a storyteller, at the start of the school year, might inspire their young writers, and help the new ones get a feel for the library and resource centre.

End

Over the course of 1-hour sessions, groups of 30 children were inspired to write their own endings to a story. They were encouraged to use a great breadth of descriptive language and to consider including all 5 senses within their work. It was a delight to see both girls and boys knuckling down to the task, and the results were spectacular. A selection of them were so proud of their endings, they volunteered to read them to their classmates.

Basing House Museum Bringing ruins to life with Tours and Object Handling

Beginning

Basing House Museum is an open site of important historical ruins. Visitors benefit enormously from interactions with staff and volunteers to interpret it. With growing numbers, sometimes leading to queues at certain spots, it was felt that storytelling training could help reinvigorate the tours, and also bring to life the front of house role by adding object handling skills for both drop in sessions and to entertain summertime queues.

Middle

As these were experienced tour guides, we took them through a half-day workshop to add storytelling techniques to their repertoire. This refresher enabled them to bring back to life the site as it had been, by making the past a present for their visitors to imagine themselves into.

The afternoon was spent with handling objects: the story techniques from the morning were brought back into play, but often turned into questions so as to ensure this didn’t become a talk, but rather a conversation that explored the object, what it told us about itself, its use, its contemporary world.

End

The skills learnt were used across the site, with stories being used to illustrate the events that took place there and populate the ruins. The questioning, conversational aspects of the object handling training were further brought into play, turning all interactions with visitors into non-didactic, visitor led conversations with a purpose.