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7 Tips for Better Storytelling

December 3, 2012

Today’s guest post comes from HandsOn Blog and originally appeared on November 26, 2012. often do you tell your organization’s story? What do you talk about when you’re meeting new volunteers or talking to new donors or even explaining what your organization does?
Being able to tell your organization’s story well can help you in everything from recruiting volunteers to writing reports. Here are some tips for telling your story well:
  1. Stories are about people. People connect with other people, so make sure you focus your story on the real-life characters of your story.  Even if your organization works to increase a city’s tree canopy or preserve native plants or helps other organizations to be more effective, people are still the driving force behind the work being done.  So focus on the people involved.  People are what an audience will follow through a story.
  2. Let your characters speak for themselves.  An important part of storytelling is making the story personable and relatable.  When characters speak to each other in a story, it lends immediacy urgency and authenticity to the piece. So use direct quotes and let characters speak in their own voices.
  3. Audiences bore easily.  Let’s face it: these days, our attention spans are strained and unless you’re keeping people interested, you are wasting your breath. So when telling a story, get them engaged: make them wonder “what happens next?” or “how is this going to turn out?”  As the people in your story pursue their goal, they must run into obstacles, surprises, or something that makes the audience sit up and take notice. Try breaking your story into smaller chunks to see if each part is able to hold your attention.
  4. Stories stir up emotions.  Human beings are not inclined to think about things they don’t care about.  Stories stir emotions not to be manipulative, not simply for melodramatic effect, but to break through the white noise of information that continuously inundates us and to deliver the message: this is worth your attention.
  5. Stories don’t tell: they show. Show don’t tell is the most fundamental maxim of storytelling, and for good reason.  Your audience should see a picture, feel the conflict, and become more involved with the story – not just be receptacles for a long list of facts. This doesn’t mean you need to show your audience a slideshow with your story. Your story should help the audience draw their own pictures.
  6. Stories have at least one “moment of truth.” The best stories show us something about how we should treat ourselves, others, or the world around us.  Call it an “Aha” moment – that point when your story conveys a message that really makes your audience say, “Yes! That’s a powerful idea.”
  7. Stories have a clear meaning. When the final line is spoken, your audience should know exactly why they took this journey with you.  In the end, this may be the most important rule of all.  If your audience can’t answer the question, “What was the story all about?” it won’t matter if you followed rules one through six.
How does your organization tell its story? Do you have a really great story that you always use? Let us know in the comments!
3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 3, 2012 7:53 pm

    These are excellent tips on storytelling for greater impact. I spoke to someone who worked in grantwriting who called her job “building a story” from numbers woven with individual examples and success stories. When possible and appropriate, visuals can add a face (or a result: a finished house, a store selling fair-trade goods, etc.) to the personal story that helps it make even more of an impact.

  2. December 4, 2012 9:38 am

    @Alicia – Great tips to add and I agree that photos can really help drive the emotions of a story. Thanks for sharing!


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