Video and transcript from J. Schuh’s talk at Austin’s 2nd Annual Facilitator Summit, Control the Room

Please join us for the Control the Room 2021, which will be held Feb. 2-4, 2020. You can find out more and buy tickets here.

This is part of the 2020 Control The Room speaker video series.

In February we hosted the second annual facilitator summit, Control The Room, at Austin’s Capital Factory. We launched the summit last year in partnership with MURAL to create a space for facilitators to gather, break down the silos, and learn from one another.

The three-day summit is a rare opportunity to bring together an otherwise unlikely group of highly experienced and skilled professionals across various industries and crafts—from strategy consultants and negotiators to Scrum Masters and design thinkers.

Anyone interested in deepening their knowledge on how to successfully facilitate meaningful meetings and connect with other practitioners is welcome. Together, we dive into diverse methodologies, expand upon perspectives, and learn new insights and strategies that enrich our expertise.

This year we had the pleasure of welcoming 24 speakers, all innovation professionals, who shared their insights and strategies of successful facilitation.

One of those speakers was J. Schuh

J. Schuh is a Design Strategist at Sabre and Design Thinking facilitator. He spoke about the importance of sharing stories through “story stacks”—a collection of stories that facilitators can call upon to tell at a moment’s notice to communicate a lesson learned or an idea they are presenting.

He explained that storytelling is an effective way to build connection and trust in the room because our brains react positively to stories, making us think we are part of the narrative.

J. shared that each story stack should include a goal, character, conflict, and resolution. He said great story stacks have the power to:

  • Win hearts
  • Change minds
  • Get results
  • Control the room

Watch J. Schuh’s talk “Story Stack” :

Read the Transcript

J. Schuh:

All right. Can you guys hear me? Okay, so I don’t know how many of you have ever put together decks. Right? I tend to, when I’m put together a presentation, I use each of my slides is kind of tempos and then I just kind of be in the moment so I’m going to tell you a story I hadn’t planned on telling you. If you look at me, I have a lazy eye and sometimes it goes out. I keep trying to motivate it, but it’s still not there. So I went to the optometrist and you go to the optometrist and this is a person who sees all sorts of people all the time. I mean, I don’t know how many eyes this person has seen. So you know how when they cover up the one eye and they look at one eye and they cover up the other eye. So she comes over and she covers up one of my eyes and she goes, “Oh.”

J. Schuh:

And I’m like, “What’s going on?” I mean, you never want a doctor to go. “Oh.” Right? And so she knew that I had a lazy eye and we talked about it and then she covered the other eye and she goes, “Your other eye goes out too.” And I go, “Oh, I didn’t know that.” And I go, “You mean, I’m uniquely prepared for the zombie apocalypse because, like a lizard, I can look at all things.” So, with Emily’s thing, I was like, “Man, my peripheral vision is amazing.” Right? So I’m totally going to use your dot because I’m all over the place. Right? Okay, so what I just shared with you today is actually what I’m going to talk about. It’s a story stack. I hadn’t planned on sharing that story, but I was inspired because of the talks and the people I had before me to talk about that.

J. Schuh:

So it’s story stacks. This is the book I’m currently in. And last night we talked a lot about questions and I was writing notes furiously about all these amazing questions that facilitators ask groups and people. And this book by Sherry Turkle at MIT, she said, “I’m not anti-technology. I’m pro conversation.” And she’s talking about how technology has really interrupted our ability to communicate as human beings. Because I mean, one of the other stories that I’ll share briefly with you, because this is a talk about stories, she talked to a college student who had just had sex and the boy was in the bathroom and she went right back to Tinder. I mean, he’s still in the house and she went right back. And I said, “What is that saying to us as a society about intimacy?” Right? How is technology allowing us to interact with people in sometimes what people would consider the most intimate possible way and then she felt compelled right after to go to her phone and go back into it? I said, “My gosh, what is this doing and how is this changing society?”

J. Schuh:

And I’ve done other talks about it, but my name is J. Schuh and I’m a Design Strategist at Sabre and people are the most interesting thing to me in the world. And I love being with people and I love this conference because when we say control the room, really what we’re trying to do, and I think the heart of what all the speakers have said is, how can we allow people as facilitators to get the most and the best experience possible that we can help generate? It’s not about controlling the room in that sense of control factor. It’s about how do we allow people to present and get the best from them in the room. All right? And one way that I do it is using stories. We’re raised on stories almost from birth, right?

J. Schuh:

Even now, parents are shoving iPads in kids thing and they have stories and everything on it, but that’s another talk. I can go into it. But I love those old things that don’t require batteries like books, right? And that’s why I purposely picked this picture because they resonate. I still remember as a little kid sitting in a circle and having my teacher tell me a story, right. And I always was wondering, there’s always a point to stories and they resonate years and years later, you go through all these … Any of us who have multiple degrees and been through hundreds of hours, it’s the stories that stay with us. As a matter of fact, our brains are hardwired to experience stories differently. We talked earlier about being travelers. And when you tell people’s stories, they’ve seen that your brain, when you’re hearing a story, your brain, reacts as if you’re in the experience and it’s no mistake.

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J. Schuh:

And we talked about religion, I’ll see if I can alienate half of the room too, right? It’s no mistake that most religions are books of stories, right? And we have walkers. I love that, right? I connected that dot. So this is one of my, “Oh my God. You’re right. They’re all walkers.” Right? So I love that. NPR said, and there’s hope because NPR said that in 2019 more people went to libraries than movies, so it’s not just doom and gloom, right? It’s like people are still getting information and this construct is called a story stack.

J. Schuh:

It’s all the stories we collect as human beings, whether we’re reading it online or hearing it from other people or experiencing and listening to what other people say, we collect those stories and those are our story stacks that, when the opportunities present us. And a lot of times, for me in a workshop, I don’t plan on telling a story. I let the group kind of inspire me to a story. And when you tell a story, it’s like the breath, right? It’s like the breath. When you tell a story, it refocuses the group and people pay attention. And people can be all over the place and you go, “You know what? This reminds me of this story.” And you start telling that story and you look around the room and you have everybody back again. Right? So it’s a tool. It’s for us to use.

J. Schuh:

How many of you in this room have ever been in a room where people don’t want you there? Raise your hand. Right? That was 2019 for Brian and myself. We were implementing design thinking and design strategy at Sabre and 50% of all the groups in the room did not want us there. One of those groups, it was at the beginning of 2019, we had had a really … How many of you ever been in those meetings where it’s super high stakes and if it doesn’t go well, you’re fired? Has anybody been in that situation? That was Christmas 2018, right? And I was like, “Oh.” Even my boss comes, “You know, this is a political minefield, but you can do it.” Awesome. I love your confidence. One of the tools, and if you guys haven’t used this, please look it up. It’s called hopes and fears.

J. Schuh:

And you put up a poster, hopes and fears, and you let everybody in the room write down what they hopes and fears about what you’re about to do. And so they write silently and they put it up and immediately, I’m good about reading the room. That’s something I’m pretty good at. So I went in and I mean, arms were crossed. People had not great expressions on their face and you walk in and go, “Oh God, they’re here.” Right? I mean, that was kind of the emotion. And I’m going, “Oh, this is going to be really interesting what their hopes and fears are.” So hope, “I hope this is not a complete waste of my time.” Awesome. Fear. “I fear this is going to be a complete waste of my time.” And we had flown everybody out for three days and Brian and I were taking a day and a half of their three days and they were super pissed.

J. Schuh:

They were super pissed that we were in the room. They didn’t think that we could offer anything of value, any new information, that would help them get things done. So we’re going to do an exercise. So, what I want you to do is I don’t want you to tell a story, but I want you to think of a story in your story stack. And I want you to consider these things, goals, character, conflict, and resolution. And I want you to, we’re going to do a pedagogy thing of think. So I want you to spend about one minute now, just in silence and solitude. Well really quick, everybody take group breath. On that. Find that story that you think you would tell the group that I just mentioned. Think about it for one minute. Then what I want you to do is pair up and I don’t want you to tell the story. I want you to describe the story to your partner, okay? So for one minute, we’re going to think, and I’ll let you know.

J. Schuh:

All right. So, did you get some interesting insights? From the personal vantage about stories? Here’s how it played out. I tend to like to deescalate people. When people are afraid, I tend to like to calm them down. I say, “It’s going to be okay. This is going to be awesome. We’re going to find all these amazing things. Bear with me. Be open. We’re going to …” That is not Brian. Brian did the complete opposite. He came in and he goes, “You should be afraid.” He goes, “You should be very afraid because what we do here today is going to go directly to the CEO of your business unit and we’re here to get things done, and this is work and workshop.” Right? And he told a story about the one where he and I almost got fired if the results didn’t happen and he talked about how we were able to create some insights and with a report, move that business unit forward, right?

J. Schuh:

So every one of us has different approaches and different stories. If you have a great story that you tell at the right moment, it truly can win hearts, change minds, and get results. And in workshops, one of the things that I’ve noticed being in an enterprise environment, I owned my own company for 20 years, which I was the boss. I was the CEO. I could go in and I had, a lot of times an hour to listen to people around the room, decide what their problem was, and then at the end of that, they would ask me, “Can you deliver this thing on time, on this budget?” And for those of you that own your own business, you probably can relate to that experience a little bit. In enterprise things move more slowly and last night, we also talked about how in short experiences and facilitating, you can manage that experience in a short duration of time and then you leave, right, if you’re an outside person.

J. Schuh:

But when you’re on the inside, you have long-term relationships with those people that you’re going to see in other meetings and other workshops and other things, so it’s a different kind of relationship. And to me, sharing success stories that happen in an enterprise when you do have those successes, those help people buy in when you’re in a room where people don’t want you in the room, all right? So story stacks help you control the room in terms of helping them see there is possibility, in spite of fear, we can make a difference and do what needs to be done. Now I timed this out because I heard we might have questions. So I’m going to actually, because I did my job, I’m going to take it. I guess I would say this. I love the networking. It’s a net that works.

J. Schuh:

How many of you know the LinkedIn thing? Do you guys know the LinkedIn thing, the find nearby? Have you guys done that? Okay, so we’re going to do that real quick. I hadn’t planned on doing this either, but you know, I am J Schuh. All right. So what we’re going to do is you’re going to open up LinkedIn, if you have it. Yeah, I’m asking you to use the thing I told you was the devil. All right. And what you’re going to do is at the bottom, there’s a little two people, my network. You’re going to press that. And when you press that, there’s a little blue button. It’s a blue dot. Oh my God. It’s all coming together, right? It’s a theme. With a person in a plus, you’re going to push that. And there’s one that says find nearby. It’s default is off.

J. Schuh:

I can go back. Absolutely. Heck yeah. So, all right. Back all the way, little two people at the bottom, on the left, you push that, blue dot, all right, comes up. It has a person with a plus by it. Did you guys see that? Okay. Then what you do is you push the blue dot and there’s find nearby. You turn it on. And if everybody is doing what we should do, lots of people in the room pop up and all you can do is, if you want to, you can connect to anybody else who has decided to reach out to you. Right? So this is my little networking tip, and this is so awesome. And for those people that I’m not already connected to, I’m connecting to you because I love to continue the conversation.

J. Schuh:

Yeah. You just press the little thing. There’s little pluses and you use your thumb and you just kind of reach out and connect and see, this is interactive, right? I promised you, Douglas, I would include something interactive in here. And so we’re doing the interactive portion. While we’re pressing dots, does anybody have any questions about story stacks? Yes.

Speaker 2:

[inaudible 00:13:50].

J. Schuh:

Awesome. Thank you for that. That’s awesome. So it is a collection of stories that when you are in a moment and you say, “You know what? I think there’s a disconnect in the room. If I tell this story, the meaning and the idea behind the story can help bring clarity to what we’re trying to solve.” Do you want me to give you another quick example or go.

Speaker 2:

I have a follow up question, I guess.

J. Schuh:

Sure. Go ahead.

Speaker 2:

is there some way that you organize them?

J. Schuh:

Absolutely not.

Speaker 2:

Okay, so this is just a collection kind of in your mind, you don’t like actually consciously have a Google sheet or something, like all the different stories you would use in these things.

J. Schuh:

No, no, no. It’s very in the moment, in present, but they are memorized stories and if you pull them from a book or a magazine, you go, “Oh my God, this is a great story for my story stack, so I’m going to totally do it.” Like value, for instance. Oh, go ahead.

Speaker 3:

[inaudible 00:14:44] tips for people who have terrible memories?

J. Schuh:

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So what you do, let me … I’ll do it through another story, all right? We were having a conversation about communicating with stakeholders and they were saying, I’m offering these stakeholders money and they just don’t want the money. I mean, I keep saying, if you give me this thing, I’ll give you money. And they were not responding. And I said, “One of the things you have to do with stakeholders is you have to understand the values and metrics that are important to those stakeholder and sometimes they’re not the same as us.” And I told this story. I said, There was a little girl on the side of the street who was selling a puppy. And it said, puppy for sale, a thousand dollars. And there’s guy comes up and he’s goes, “Well, my daughter’s little, I think she’d want a puppy.”

J. Schuh:

So he goes up to the guy and he goes, “A thousand dollars is really expensive for a puppy, but I like that puppy for my daughter.” And she goes, “Oh my gosh, this puppy is so warm and cuddly and he just licks your face and it’s just so wonderful. He’s worth a thousand dollars.” And the guy goes, “Well, a thousand dollars is a lot of money for a puppy.” And she goes, “I’m sorry, that’s the price. It’s a thousand dollars.” And so he goes, “Well, I’m not paying a thousand dollars for a puppy.” So he goes on. So a few days later he drove by the same block. It’s in his neighborhood and he still sees this girl selling the puppy for a thousand dollars. She’s very persistent. And then later on, a few days later he’s driving by and it says sold.

J. Schuh:

Well, he is really curious. He’s like, I need this girl on my sales force team, right. And so he goes in to her and he goes, “You really sold that puppy for a thousand dollars?” She goes, “Yes, sir. I did.” She goes, “I got two $500 kittens. I got twice as much love.” Right? So sometimes we misinterpret the value of what other people need and what we’re offering is not what they want. So when we understand the values and beliefs of the stakeholders and the metrics that are important to them, we can then reposition our offer to find compromise and connection. Guys, thank you very much.