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Remember the old woman who lived in a shoe? Or the man who stepped in a puddle up to his middle? Or Peter Peter, pumpkin-eater who had a wife but couldn't keep her? Even if you don't remember the full rhyme, one of them probably rings a faint bell. That's because these aren't just children's nursery rhymes; they're sticky stories, or stories that stick with you for decades.
When we were children, we all knew how important stories were. Many of us demanded them every night, sometimes over and over again. We like to be entertained, and we definitely like to hear about the impossible.
So, isn't it obvious that's how you should be reaching your audience? And I don't mean rhymes, but really high-impact, emotional stories, true stories. Because there are many out there waiting to be told.
Now I know storytelling is a buzzword right now, and buzzwords come and go. Storytelling has been a buzzword before, and will be again. As a former journalist, I was passionate about it before, and I will continue to be long after people have moved onto the next buzzword. But even when storytelling is not a buzzword, your story needs to be told.
And these stories you want to tell need to stick, they need to entertain, and yes, sometimes they need to talk about the near impossible.
So, how the heck do you tell such a sticky, emotional story? We'll get to that, but first, it's important to keep a few things in mind.
Imagine a story being told to children around a campfire. Now swap out the children with adults. It's going to be a different story, right? The more you write directly for your audience, the more they will relate to your story.
Do you want people to see your organization differently, or take an action, or make a donation? How are you communicating this goal?
You will need them if you want to write an amazing story.
The best way to learn how to tell a story is to read other stories and look at how they were developed. For instance, take this long, amazing story, Invisible Child: Girl in the Shadows: Dasani's Homeless Life by Andrea Elliott, published in The New York Times. That story took 15 months to develop.
Reading articles like this will only get you so far. You also need to practice crafting your own stories. So, next time you have an in-depth talk with someone, play with crafting their story in your mind. How would you write it?
Just by working at your organization, you may know far more about your cause than you realize. Your background information will come in handy. The hard part will be figuring out how to put that into words and which pieces are directly important in this particular story.
You should also ask yourself a couple of questions.
Does it make sense for you, someone else on staff, or should you bring in a consultant to help?
This depends on a number of things, including the size of your audience and what kinds of stories they could share. It also depends on what you want to accomplish by collecting and sharing stories, and on you understanding and accepting it will still take a decent chunk of time.
As a co-coordinator for NetSquared DC, I recently helped organize a storytelling event in DC. One of our presenters, Brandi Horton, vice president of Vanguard Communications, shared an interesting case study. She worked with Farm Aid to solicit about 500 stories from its audience to share. Some of her top tips included: Provide guidelines, offer incentives, get releases, and save time for quality control.
You can tell your story via email, website, video, and social media. You might be able to expand it on your website, then promote it and link to it from any one of your platforms. Each time you share it, you should tailor it to your audience on that platform. This, of course, takes time, so be strategic about which platforms make the most sense to share a particular story on.
And, finally, how do you craft a story and keep it sticky from the beginning to the middle to the end? Start with a strong lead, structure your story well; add lots of flavor; remember, show, don't tell; and, of course, end it superbly.
Read more about this in part 2 of the series.
Image: Scott Kozinchik / CC BY-NC-ND
This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License.
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