If you’re not yet a storytelling advocate, you don’t know what you’re missing.
Great tales, well told are critical to social enterprises and not for profits. They’re how you articulate your mission and connect with the wider community – how you extend your reach, bolster your resources and ultimately make an even greater impact.
And while ‘digital storytelling’ sounds like the next *thing*, in reality all you’re talking about is a new kind of a vehicle for a timeless tradition.
Humans have been sharing their experiences since day dot; from cave drawings to art, obscure blogs to Instagram, the only difference is how we do it.
While digital channels make sharing easier, there’s no doubt the sheer bulk of content out there makes it harder for your stories to connect with your audience. But take up the challenge you must, because there is nothing that forces self-reflection and a wider world view than seeing that same world through someone else’s eyes, if only for a moment.
Storytelling can educate, engender compassion and provoke action. So, what are you waiting for?
Top tips for storytellers
- Make it strategic. Know why you’re doing it, who you’re targeting and how, what you want your audience to get from the process and how you ultimately want them to act. Think purposeful, not ‘inspiration porn’.
- If you’re going to do it, do it well. We’ve all got that family member who can crucify even the best story – and the one who holds a room rapt with their anecdotes – the trick is to invest in great storytelling by investing in skilled people. That means people you can trust to protect the integrity of your mission, and the people you serve, while having a nose for a compelling narrative.
- Get everyone on-board. The most powerful stories are often communicated at the frontline – not in the boardroom. Ensure that your teams understand the importance of storytelling, their role in making it happen and what makes a compelling, strategic story. Just as importantly, give them every reason to trust that the information they share will be used responsibly. People are your purpose, so make sure they remain so at an individual level; preserve dignity and communicate responsibly.
- Close the loop. Don’t just tell a compelling story, communicate impact and demonstrate what one person can help you achieve. Too often the problem seems too big – beyond our individual capacity to make a meaningful difference – so it’s important to not only connect people with the problem, but also with the solution.
- Find the right platform. Understand your target audience’s communication preferences; that means where they want to access their content and the type of content they like. Then ensure you evaluate impact by measuring the right metrics – whether you were seeking new followers, customers, donors or sign-ups, you need to know what works and what doesn’t.
- Storytelling is a misnomer. In reality, the most effective stories ‘show’, they don’t ‘tell’. According to good ole Wikipedia that means allowing the reader to “experience the story through action, words, thoughts, senses, and feelings rather than through the author’s exposition, summarization, and description”. In effect, telling tends to be factual, whereas showing is usually human-centred and descriptively detailed; think police report versus Agatha Christie.
Stories aren’t just easier to recall than statistics, they’re also much more effective at triggering emotions, and it’s those which provoke us to act. Think about it…. We clamour for stories at our mother’s knee, read them, Netflix them, like and share them – they’re everywhere and they’re crucial to our connection with the world. Hence, it’s the story we tell ourselves about facts and figures that drive our reactions, and those stories are brought to life by faces and by heartbeats … not figures on a page. That authenticity is what bridges the gap between you and your audience.
In a digital age we can widen and deepen those connections through active engagement. Back just a few short decades ago, we were passive consumers of the storytelling process – from tv shows and films to adverts, it was a one-way conversation. Today, that dynamic has changed beyond all recognition. When a story hits our newsfeed, we don’t just absorb, we share, like and maybe even comment, interacting with our friends, with the organisation and even with complete strangers who have a shared history or alternative view. Suddenly we rally; feel part of something bigger and compelled to act. At least that’s the goal!
If you’re being held back by the concern that the issues you tackle are too challenging and the people you work with too vulnerable, it’s important to balance those sensitivities alongside the bigger picture. Those issues will never get the attention they need, and you will never build the understanding and compassion – never mind support – they deserve unless those stories are told.
It’s critical to protect people, but it’s just as important to give them a voice.
Keen to tap into your organisation’s stories? Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.