One of my earliest childhood memories is telling my cousin about how my toys came alive every night at midnight and held wonderful parties. But they only did this if everyone was fast asleep. I wove fanciful tales about their adventures that I witnessed “only once” when they thought I was asleep. What did this embellished “story” accomplish? My older cousin looked at me with a new-found awe and it gave us a goal — to sneak a peak at these midnight marauders. Because I had experienced it “only once” it became obtainable without it becoming commonplace. My cousin still remembers my “stories.”
When we tell stories we captivate the imagination and draw others into our experiences. (Notice I even started this blog post with a story.) Our emotional response to stories has a more profound (and lasting) effect on us than a mere regurgitation of dates or stats. The amazing video Socialnomics provides unbelievable stats about social media but months after I watched it all I can remember is that it was really good. I can’t remember a single statistic. I can, however, remember quite clearly what the function of a conjunction (not to mention an interjection) is because it was immortalized in a story set to music back in the 70s as part of School House Rock. If you want your audience to remember your message or your mission, a story is a great way to do it.
7 Steps for a Successful Story:
1. Decide why are you telling a story. What do you plan on accomplishing? Are you using it to recruit members or give your organization a personality? Maybe your purpose is to further your nonprofit cause.
2. Select what part of your organization (aka whose story) best fits that intended purpose. Choose a hero (aka the central person or cause).
3. Frame your story. What is the best way to tell your story? First person? Third person? At what point should you begin the story? At what point should you end it? Take some time to play around with the different variables. What ultimately feels the most captivating or least forced?
4. Draw a story arc. (If you need more information about this premise, check here.) Sketch out the beginning, middle and end. The middle must contain the “so what?” of the article. What’s going on? What obstacle is in the way of success? The end should contain a satisfying conclusion. We are not writing literature. We’re telling a story. Your audience does not want a symbolic ending. They want a satisfying end. This end will be the reason they choose to share or simply “x” out of your site.
5. Write, write and write. You don’t have to be a good writer to be a fantastic storyteller. Telling a story is to elicit an emotional response, something your audience can identify with. You want to provide details about your hero. (If your story is a cause or mission oriented one, you’ll want to personify it by showing the people behind it or those benefiting from it.) You want your audience to feel like they know your hero, know his struggle or identify with him on some level.
6. Or don’t write. If writing is not your thing, consider digital storytelling. Digital storytelling marries poignant images and vibrant language against a musical backdrop. Its emotional potential is a fantastic fit for nonprofit and cause-oriented groups.
7. Promote your story. Now that you’ve told a story (instead of a hard sell blog post) you have more options as to how you can promote it online. A story has a broader audience. Take some time to research story sites. Look for sites related to the kind of story you told. Find out if you can share your story with their audience. Maybe it’s a larger, national nonprofit like Livestrong. Maybe a local magazine or newspaper is looking for “a local gal done good.” Think outside of your normal channels of dissemination. Not only does this expose you to a new audience, it helps you with your SEO and link-building.
These steps are only the beginning of how to embrace storytelling for your organization. Beth Kanter has compiled some brilliant blog posts on storytelling, including an updated version of the story arc. If you are considering changing the way in which you communicate, aka adapting a storytelling tone, you would be remiss not to read her extensive library on the subject.