Story Circles Online

A story circle is a group of people who share stories in response to a particular topic in a structured way that encourages full and authentic participation in both listening to and telling personal stories. Importantly, what is shared in the circle stays in the circle unless there is explicit permission to share more widely. For this reason, please do not ever record a story circle.

Emory Telling and Hearing Our Stories (ETHOS) has adapted and modified for online use these guidelines for story circle facilitation from Roadside Theater, which uses them for in-person community story sharing.

Example Online Story Circle

This recorded story circle serves as a demonstration. Please do not record your story circles, to encourage authentic participation and connection. 

Getting Started

  1. Form your circle: talk to people about the idea and schedule an hour for the circle with no more than 15 people; 6-8 people is ideal.
  2. Create a Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, or FaceTime meeting invitation or agree on how to meet. If you create the meeting through Emory’s Zoom account, you will not encounter a time limit. 
  3. Think about your story prompt ahead of time (regarding life in the time of the pandemic) but do not share the prompt until you are about to start the story sharing. Suggestion: Tell a story that illustrates how the events during this time have affected you or changed your life. 

Story Circle

Guidelines for the Facilitator

1. Describe the story circle’s purpose (to find new ways to be in relationship with other members of the Emory community and/or beyond).4. Ask participants to quickly name the typical elements of a story – narrative, plot, characters, etc.
2.Tell the rules of the story circle (see below) and answer any questions. Explain that you will share the prompt in a moment.5. State the prompt and begin! You may ask for a volunteer to begin or you may begin.
3. Explain how much time each person will have to tell a story. Aim for a 5-minute introduction, 30 minutes to tell stories, and 10 minutes to wrap up. So if there are 10 participants, allow 3 minutes per person. The facilitator should time the stories and explain the signal that you will give (raised hand) when there is a minute left.6. After the first story, wait for someone else to begin their story. This rotation continues until everyone has told a story. Alternatively, you may call on the participants in the order in which they appear on your own screen. If you do this, remember that silence is okay, and state the rule that someone can “pass” their turn but that the circle will return to them after everyone else has spoken. 
7. After everyone has spoken, ask what common themes stood out in the stories and let the group talk about them for about 10 minutes.

Story Circle Rules

  1. Listening deeply is the most important part of the story circle experience. Be nonjudgmental and provide space for the storyteller to talk; no chat box activity, no side conversations via other media (texting, etc.). Just listen!
  2. What is said in the circle stays in the circle unless you have permission to share otherwise. Do not record these sessions.
  3. Let each person talk until they are finished. Participants speak only when it is their turn; there is no cross-talk. Comments will come later. Everyone might mute themselves until it is their turn to talk, then everyone unmutes for comments at the end.
  4. Silence is OK. If someone is struggling with what to say, don’t make them feel rushed.
  5. Anyone may decide to pass, knowing their turn will come around again. 
  6. Because of the online environment, participants will jump in when they would like to tell their story (or be called on by the facilitator), but everyone will participate by the end. No one can sit it out and only listen.
  7. Participants should not distract themselves by thinking ahead about what story to tell.
Hear Stories

Share Your Experience

Participated in an online story circle? Heard a story that resonated with you? We would love to hear about your experience, as well as any questions or comments you may have.