Shrunken Stories


Summarizing a story forces the participants to focus on its theme and the key details. In this interactive storytelling technique, the participants condense the original story successively into a 99-word story, a twitter story, and a six-word story.


To repeatedly summarize a story to shorter lengths.


Any number. The ideal size is 15 to 30, divided into teams of three to five.


About 30 minutes


A selected story (or case study) related to the training topic. (One copy for each participant)

Supplies and Equipment

  • Sheets of paper
  • Pens or pencils
  • Timer
  • Whistle


Become familiar with the flow of the activity. Review the Play Sample below. This sample contains a case study (in the form of a story) followed by successively shrunken versions. This sample should give you a feel for how the story is repeatedly reduced in length.

Write or select your story. Write a story (or a case study) that illustrates key principles and procedures associated with your training topic. If a suitable story already exists, use it with appropriate modifications.


Ask the participants to read the story. Distribute copies of the story to the participants. Tell them that this story will form the basis for an activity in which they will repeatedly summarize the story. Announce a suitable time limit.

Organize teams. Wait for all participants to finish reading the story. Organize them into teams of two to five participants each.

Ask for a 99-word version. Distribute sheets of paper and ask the teams to work collaboratively to summarize the story into exactly 99 words. If some participants have laptop computers, encourage them to use them to make it easy to keep track of the word count. Announce a 3-minute time limit.

Conduct team presentations. At the end of 3 minutes, blow a whistle and ask the teams to quickly complete their 99-word version. After a suitable pause, ask each team to read its story. Encourage other teams to listen carefully so they can borrow ideas for future use.

Identify the best story. Listen to the stories from different teams. Choose the best story and announce your choice. Congratulate the team that came up with this version.

Conduct the tweet story activity. Ask the teams to shrink the story to a twitter story of less than 140 characters, including punctuation and spaces. Encourage the teams to condense the story by focusing on its theme and essential events. Advise the teams to leave out unimportant details, superfluous words, and redundant language. Announce a 3-minute time limit.

Repeat the sharing procedure. After 3 minutes, conduct a round of team presentations of the tweet stories. Select the best tweet and congratulate the team that created it.

Repeat the shrinking procedure. Ask the teams to transform the story into a six-word version. As before, encourage the teams to retain the theme and leave out unnecessary details. Announce a 2-minute time limit.

Identify the best six-word story. After 2 minutes, conduct a round of team presentations of the six-word stories. Select the best version and congratulate the team that created it.

Conclude the activity. Thank the participants for sharing their understanding and mastery of the story by repeatedly shrinking its size. Conduct a debriefing discussion of the underlying principles and procedures that were retained in different versions of the story.

Play Sample


Revenue Enhancement Needs Analysis: Original Case Study

The Ideal State

I was invited by the CEO of a small consulting company with seven employees. He wanted help in solving a performance problem.

Apparently, in one of the regular staff meetings, somebody asked, “When are we going to get a pay raise?”

After laughing at this question, my client decided to take it seriously and hired me to conduct a needs analysis.

During the first meeting, I asked the staff members to specify the ideal state. Here are different ideas that were offered:

  • Give everyone a 20 percent pay raise.
  • Make more money every month.
  • Get a bank loan and pay people more.

We decided that most of these ideas were not specific enough. Eventually, we came up with this statement of the ideal state:

Make $50,000 every month.

This amount should enable everyone to receive a 10 percent pay raise and meet the company's monthly expenses without difficulty.

The Actual State

The people who worked in the company knew that they had difficulty making the monthly payroll. But they did not have any idea how much money they were making each month. Different people came up with different estimates that varied significantly. Even the accountant was clueless about the company’s monthly income. When confronted, he mumbled something about wide variances in our earnings and the differences among accruals, receivables, cash flow, and so on. I asked him to get some solid data and report to us during the next meeting. My client threatened to fire him if he did not have accurate and up-to-date information.

At the next meeting, the accountant did bring some credible data in the form of a spreadsheet. The bad news was clear for everyone to see: The company made an average of $23,487 during the past 8 months. The predicted income for the next 4 months did not appear to be significantly different.

The Performance Gap

Working with the group, I figured out the performance gap. It was an easy computation:

Ideal state: $50,000.

Actual state: $23,487.

Gap: $50,000 – $23,487 = $26,513.

Cause Analysis

I asked this question: “Why are we not earning as much as we should?”

There were a lot of wild speculations, and some of the responses had nothing to do with the performance gap.

Here are a few of the ideas offered by different people:

  • Some people are paid bloated salaries.
  • Our clients are cheapskates.
  • The government is moving toward socialism.
  • Most clients want eLearning. We don’t have a credible track record in that field.
  • We are not listening to our customers.
  • We don’t have the bells and whistles that the other consultants flaunt.
  • We need a marketing person.
  • Eighty percent of our income comes from two major clients.
  • We are not charging enough. Look at our competitors. They charge $5,000 per day.

The Root Cause

After a lot of discussion about the possible causes and yelling at each other, the group settled down to this statement of the root cause:

We are not effectively marketing our products and services.

The Intervention

After talking about different factors behind this root cause, the group figured out that they lack sufficient capacity to handle the demands of marketing. So their intervention was to hire a talented marketer.


My client thanked me for my services. I kept track of their follow-up activities. Basically, nothing happened. They had a clear idea of the intervention but they were caught in a Catch 22: They could not hire a marketing person unless they made more money and they could not make more money until they hired a marketing person. So they are still continuing business as usual, mumbling philosophical inanities like, “Money is not everything”.


Revenue Enhancement Needs Analysis: 99-Word Version

I was hired to conduct a needs analysis at a small corporation where the staff members were asking for a pay raise. Working with the group of seven employees, I found out that ideally the corporation should be making $50,000 every month. Currently they are making less than half of this amount, leaving a monthly gap of $26,513. The group narrowed a list of causes to the root cause of lack of marketing. They decided to hire a marketer. Not having money to hire a marketer presented a dilemma. The group members rationalized their inaction with philosophical excuses.





Revenue Enhancement Needs Analysis: Twitter Story

I learned to find the gap between the ideal and the actual state. But I forgot everyone’s ideal state is the status quo.





Revenue Enhancement Needs Analysis: Six-Word Story