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Let Your People Tell, Course 1:

Eliciting Stories

Doug Lipman, Storytelling Coach and Master InterviewerDo the stories of your constituents or customers need to be heard by the world?

This course is a complete guide to interviewing ordinary people to find their extraordinary, mission-enhancing stories.

An 8-session telephone-plus-web course led by Doug Lipman. Limited to 8 paid enrollees! (I may offer up to 2 complimentary places.)

Why Should We Find Our People's Stories?

The stories of those you serve or represent can be a powerful way to communicate and advance your mission.

The most effective persuasion can come, not from what you say, but from what your customers or constituents say. It can come, not from reasoned argument alone, but argument bolstered by compelling, 1st-person testimony.

Consider this:

Medtronic is a multi-national company making pacemakers and other medical devices. To make sure their employees are willing to go the extra mile for customers, Medtronic helps its employees understand the intrinsic worth of their products, apart from financial and other incentives.

To make clear the real purpose of Medtronic's work, the company brings in patients who have benefited from Medtronic products—along with the patients' doctors and families—to tell their stories to the company's employees. [These same stories are also placed in written form on the company's website, where they inform potential customers and health workers of the possibilities that Medtronic products offer for changing lives.]

People's stories—told or retold—can make both mission statements and product benefits come alive in listeners' minds.

Or consider this:

In the U.S., the death penalty is a highly emotional issue. Both advocates and opponents of the death penalty take strong stands based on deeply-held beliefs. Carefully researched position papers—not to mention long and heated arguments—produce little change in people's positions.

Yet there is an advocacy group that, on the average, persuades 20% of pro-death-penalty audience members to shift their stance and oppose the death penalty.

How do they do this? Witness to Innocence is a non-profit, anti-death penalty group whose key activity is running a speaker's bureau of death-row exonerees—people falsely convicted of capital crimes, sentenced to Death Row, and later released based on new information.

People telling their own stories can move mountains.

What Kind of Organization?

All kinds of organizations—large or small—can benefit from harnessing the power of true experience stories, such as:

  • Advocacy organizations like Witness to Innocence or Mothers Against Drunk Driving;
  • Non-profits like the United Way or the American Red Cross;
  • For-profits like Medtronic or Southwest Airlines.

But How Do You Elicit Mission-Enhancing Stories?

It's one thing to collect testimonials from customers and employees. For maximum furtherance of your mission, though, you don't want just any stories. You want stories that support very specific goals that are unique to your organization.

Take Medtronic, for example. The Medtronic mission statement includes choosing products that "make unique and worthy contributions." As a result, Medtronic will likely want stories of patients with conditions that seriously impacted their lives—and who tried other therapies without major effect until a Medtronic product made a major improvement.

Witness to Innocence, on the other hand, may decide to address those proponents of the death penalty who feel capital punishment is a fair response to heinous crimes. In doing so, Witness to Innocence may highlight stories that show how easily innocent people can be convicted and sentenced unfairly to death.

Similarly, the United Way, perhaps deciding that donors are wary of contributing to charities that reinforce dependence by aid recipients, may want stories that show beleaguered but respectable people being helped temporarily by United Way-funded agencies to "get back on their feet."

Get the Whole Story—and the Compelling Details

Stories that meet your organization's strategic goals also need to be good stories. They need to be complete. They need to have effective structures, taking listeners or readers on a satisfying yet motivating journey of the imagination.

And they need powerful images or scenes that are specific enough to be memorable but general enough to be universal. They need telling, unforgettable details.

How do you learn to gather such stories?

To find stories that not only maximally support your organization's specific goals but also work well as stories, you need advanced interviewing techniques.

For example, many interviewers see their primary job to be asking questions from a prepared list. But relying on a set of prepared questions will produce disappointing results. You will miss some important stories. More frustratingly, you will miss some of the most compelling parts of the stories you do find.

To get the persuasive stories you want, you need techniques specifically designed to elicit message-stories from ordinary people.

"Well," you say, "I'll get one of the books out there on interviewing. Or I'll take a course in interviewing."

But none of the existing books—or courses—really fit your needs.

Books on sociological interviewing, for example, tend to focus on gaining facts about the interviewee—not stories.

Books on clinical interviewing focus on how to help the interviewee, not on how the interviewee's experience can help others.

Books on oral history interviewing focus on gathering stories related to social trends and historical events, not on specific benefits or problems related to your organization's mission.

Books on journalistic interviewing focus on gathering information and perhaps on discovering provocative points of view, not on persuasion.

No, to learn to gather the persuasive stories that best further your organization's goals, you need to learn a different set of skills.

What Will This Course Teach Me?

This first-of-its-kind course is based on my nearly four decades of coaching, teaching, and interviewing. In this course, you will learn:

  • The relationships between stories (what you tell) and meanings (what your listeners take away).
  • The strengths and weaknesses of story-based communication.
  • How to help your interviewees enter story-mode—and the common mistakes that stop the flow of stories.
  • The two sub-modes of story-mode—how to recognize them and encourage whichever mode will get you the results you need at each moment.
  • How the shape of a story can support—or undermine—your organizational strategy.
  • How to identify the parts of a "model story" for meeting your organization's objectives.
  • How to generate questions based on your model story.
  • The five key types of questions and when to use them.
  • How "functional questions" of any type differ from "grammatical questions."
  • How to create and use "trigger stories."
  • How to create emotional safety during an interview.
  • How your non-verbal communication affects what stories you will hear.
  • How to know if your non-verbal cues are having the effect you want.
  • How to discourage a story that you don't want to hear, without discouraging your interviewee.
  • How to discover vivid details.
  • How to establish a mutually beneficial "contract" with your interviewee.
  • How to maintain a productive, respectful relationship with your interviewee.
  • How to change the course of an interview when it's going wrong.
  • How to create and follow up on your own "story hypotheses" during an interview.
  • How to use a "BAC-bone" diagram to guide your questions and responses.
  • How to identify and elicit important "missing scenes."
  • Simple methods for effective note-taking and recording during interviews.
  • Special techniques for interviewing a group.
  • And more!

In short, this course will teach you what you need to know, in order to help your people discover the stories that will move forward both agendas—your agenda as an organization or business, and your interviewee's agenda as a constituent or customer.

Why Should You Learn This From Me?

First of all, I know storytelling. This November will be the 40th anniversary of my discovery of the power of storytelling to change behavior, initially by telling to troubled adolescents. As a performer, I have appeared at the National Storytelling Festival (Joneborough, TN), at the Smithsonian, and internationally.

Second, my three decades as a storytelling coach have taught me much of what I know about interviewing. I wrote the book on storytelling coaching (literally: I have coached in the US, in Europe, and in Asia.

I see my job as a coach as helping the teller tell the story the teller wants to tell. To know the fullness of the story the teller intends to tell, I have needed to become expert in asking questions, following up, and helping people find stories and images they hardly suspected of existing in their minds.

Doug Lipman black and white
  Doug Lipman (photo by Pam McGrath)

Finally, as a teacher, I have not only taught conventional courses in colleges and led trainings and workshops on three continents, but in the last 15 years I have pioneered innovative distance-learning solutions such as the 37-lesson Storytelling Workshop in a Box™, the 4-lesson Beginning Storytelling Toolkit™, and the 8-lesson course in Message Telling™.

I've worked with organizations like MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), Witness to Innocence, the United Way and others. I've worked in the healthcare sector, with educational institutions, with lawyers, with oil companies, and with the World Bank. I've published my own interviews of storytellers.

"When my hand-picked crew of international coaches was about to begin a critical mission, I chose Doug Lipman to help train them further!"–Cheryl de Ciantis, former directory, Center for Creative Leadership, Brussels

Cheryl de Ciantis photo

Cheryl de Ciantis, Owner at Kairios Group and former director, Center for Creative Leadership, Brussels, Belgium

Here’s a partial list of my organizational clients:

  • The Jet Propulsion Lab at NASA;
  • The United Way;
  • Forrester Research;
  • BP (numerous engagements since 1999 in the U.S. and the U.K.);
  • The Center for Creative Leadership (Greensborough, NC and Brussels, Belgium);
  • The World Bank;
  • The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers;
  • Johns Hopkins University School of Public Safety;
  • NCS (formerly the government IT firm, Singapore);
  • The International Storytelling Center, Jonesborough, TN;
  • Mendoza College of Business, University of Notre Dame.

"Many, many people have come up to me and told me that our recent offsite was the best they'd ever attended. And this is a very critical audience.

“You were terrific -- not just entertaining, but filled with useful stuff people needed to know

“We have definitely created the chemical change in their brains. Things will be different, our writing and our speeches will be better, and our ability to influence people will improve!"–Josh Bernoff, Forrester Research

Josh Bernoff photo

Josh Bernoff, Vice President and Principal Analyst, Forrester Research

Over the years, I've developed a framework and fleshed it out with nitty-gritty techniques for uncovering effective stories to meet specific goals.

But, until now, this expertise about eliciting stories has been available only in private trainings and consultations.

The First Course on Eliciting Stories for Organizational Use.

To the best of my knowledge, this is the first open-to-the-public course devoted solely to eliciting personal experience stories for organizational use—not to mention the first such course delivered via telephone and the web.

This course is available to anyone, wherever you live. You won't have to leave home to attend this course, which will happen on the telephone and online.

And if you're not able to attend all the calls, everything will be recorded and you'll have a chance to make up everything later.

It's convenient. It's flexible. You will be able to work around your schedule and your time commitments.

Small class size

Unlike other webinars and online courses you might have taken, this course is limited to 8 public enrollees (plus up to 2 privately invited participants).

You will receive individual attention, both during the group calls and in response to your online assignments.

Everything You Need, to Learn This Key Skill

There will be four 90-minute lesson-calls, where I'll present the framework and explain the techniques. I'll also explain the course assignments and answer questions.

After each lesson-call, there will be a 90-minute coaching/question-and-answer call to help you complete the assignments in a way that leads you to master the principles and adapt the techniques to your own situation.

In some assignments, you will have a chance to interview people—other course members and even actual constituents*. I (and other course members) will help you notice your strengths as an interviewer and how to improve, as well.

*If you're in a position where you have constituents whom you can interview, then you'll interview them and report on your experience. If not, you'll interview other class members to practice these important skills.


Guarantee shieldThis course is guaranteed.

I see you as a potential ally in spreading this work to the world, in showing how effective customer and constituent stories can be. So I want you to be satisfied.

I believe this course will deliver on its promises. But if you take this course and feel that it did not do everything I said it would, I'll return every penny of your tuition.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is This Course for Everyone?


This course (the first of a series of "Let Your People Tell" courses) is specifically about interviewing for the purpose of discovering mission-furthering stories.

It will not teach you to:

  • Shape and polish (or help the teller do so) the stories you find. (That's the subject of Let Your People Tell, Course 2.)
  • Help you, your customers, or your constituents tell their own stories in a variety of situations. (That's the subject of Let Your People Tell, Course 3.)

It will make sense for someone who works for an organization or for a solo entrepreneur—as long as your organization or business wants to collect the stories that will persuade the world about your cause, service or product.

It is not a course in storytelling per se.

Beginning Storytelling Toolkit coverIf you need to get started telling stories and to begin to apply them to your circumstances, then you might be better suited with something like the Beginning Storytelling Toolkit.

The Storytelling Workshop in a Box coverIf what you need is to become an excellent storyteller, and you want to develop those techniques to the highest level, then you’d be better served by something like the Storytelling Workshop in a Box.

But if you want to elicit stories of your consituents or customers to make available to the world, then this course is exactly what you’ve been waiting for. And it has not been available publicly until now.

2. How much of my time will this take?

On the average, it will take about 3 hours of your time each week for 8 weeks. Of course, you’ll have the option of spending longer, by reading or listening to the work of other students or by re-working your own examples.

Since this is a work-related course, though, the hours you spend on this course will really be hours on your job, not away from it.

In the end, this course will save you time by make your interviewing work more efficient and effective.

3. When will this course meet?

Once I have accepted the course members and surveyed you on your schedule needs, I’ll create a precise schedule of the coaching phone calls (spread over 9 or 10 weeks) that works for everyone.

No calls will be scheduled on weekends. They will happen on weekdays, either during the day or in the evening, depending on our mutual availability.

Once I’ve sent you the schedule, you’ll have a chance to get a quick refund of everything you’ve paid, in case the schedule doesn’t work for you.

4. What If I Need to Miss a Call?

Don’t worry! All calls will be recorded and posted on the Let Your People Tell course website. You’ll have a chance to listen and absorb at your own rate.

5. What Does All This Cost?

The "Let Your People Tell, Course 1: Eliciting Stories" course includes four 90-minute recorded lessons and four 90-minute coaching/question-and-answer calls.

It also includes four sets of assignments, complete with the option to view/listen to each other’s solutions via the course website. I will be an active participant in the course forums and will respond to your postings and assignments.

Since I charge $195 and up for an hour of coaching (or $1800 for a one-day intensive), each of the eight 90-minute calls is worth well over $200—not including my responses to your assignments, feedback from the other course members, etc. So the $797 tuition for this course is a bargain. And, since it is fully guaranteed, I have absorbed the risk for you. You can’t lose!

Apply Now to Hold One of the Eight Three Remaining Places

Since this course is limited to eight people and is fully guaranteed, I will screen admissions. If the course interests you, click to request a no-obligation application:

I will send you back a simple, five-question application to fill out. (Note: You make no commitment until the point when your application is accepted and you decide whether to register.)

Once you are accepted, you will have 5 days in which to complete your registration, in order to continue to hold your place.

No organizational communication skill is more effective than gathering the true stories of those you serve or represent. You will reap the benefits of this course for years to come!

Yours in storytelling,

Doug's signature

Get an application now:


(Problems with the above link? Use my contact form instead. Mention that you want an Eliciting Stories course application.)



Doug Lipman

152 Wenonah Road, Longmeadow, MA 01106 U.S.A.
Phone: (781) 837-1940
Alternate Phone (rings the same line): (413) 754-6728
Fax (toll-free): (888) 300-6665

This page was last updated on May 26, 2010
Copyright©2010 Doug Lipman