Once upon a time, humans communicated with one another primarily through storytelling. We had limited access to scientific information for most of human history, so we used stories to explain things.
Fast forward to the present, and we’re inundated by information. But our brains haven’t evolved quite as quickly: They’re still wired to remember information best when it’s told as a story. For example, most of us can remember the tale of Benjamin Franklin’s kite-and-key-during-a-thunderstorm experiment to prove his theories about electricity. But new polling shows that more than one in three Americans can’t name a single right protected by the First Amendment.
To effectively communicate in the 21st century, we must harness the power of storytelling. We have to be able to tell a compelling story about our issue and how it relates to real people to drive potential supporters to action.
At the Hatcher Group, we’ve developed a set of best practices for telling stories effectively:
- Set a goal. Determine what you’re trying to accomplish. Influencing policy? Engaging your local community? Fundraising? Having a clear goal from the outset will help to define which stories you choose to tell and how you tell them.
- Identify your target audience. Are you hoping to communicate directly with a younger audience? Consider visual storytelling using Instagram or Snapchat. Are you trying to reach people in a specific profession or income range? Consider telling your stories through Facebook and using the platform’s targeted advertising features. Or, maybe you’re interested in communicating your organization’s successes to your existing funders. Consider including photos and written testimonials in annual reports to capture your work’s impact.
- Create a process for capturing stories. The most powerful stories about your work will come from those who are directly affected by it. How can you capture their stories? Can you conduct in-person interviews, or will they need to be submitted in written form? Can you accept video? Some stories may be incredibly personal, so crafting interview questions thoughtfully is important. Identify someone in your organization who can manage the storytelling process to ensure that it’s woven into your day-to-day work and not treated as just a one-off event. Be sure to secure the appropriate releases.
- Follow the story arc. Memorable stories follow a classic “arc,” which leads the audience through:
- A problem: Introduce a protagonist who is relevant and relatable to your audience and identify a conflict in his or her life.
- A journey: Describe the complications and barriers that arise from the conflict and what eventually causes change.
- A solution: Explain what happens when the conflict is addressed, and what the protagonist has gained that can be useful to others.
- Back your stories up with data. In the era of “fake news,” it’s more important than ever before to prove that our information is factual. Supporting your stories with research and data will help substantiate them. Data also helps connect an individual story to a broader narrative by illustrating the breadth of an issue. For example, if you’re sharing a story about a child who grew up in a home affected by lead poisoning, include the total number of children in your community or state who were similarly affected to show that this story is one of many.
Interested in help telling your stories? Contact Lauren Pescatore at firstname.lastname@example.org.