In systems change work, we tell stories to generate community engagement and support around what we’re doing to improve outcomes for kids and close disparity gaps. There’s an art and a science to our storytelling. The science is about the formula. Storytelling can be broken down into three parts: Finding the story, telling the story and sharing the story. The art is in telling the story so well that people are inspired to take action or change their behavior, as I was reminded recently at an advocacy training by The Campaign Workshop in Washington, D.C.
Here are seven tips for effective storytelling:
- Always start with a purpose. In most cases, we are storytelling for advocacy — we are telling the story in the hope of getting some kind of reaction or action. Identify your overall goal and know your audience.
- Experiment with different formats. Your story can be written or oral; it can be a video, infographic or a Q&A piece.
- Invest in some good photography. A great story can be told by a dramatic or evocative image, a strong headline and a clear call to action. Ninety percent of information we’re processing at any moment is visual.
- Keep your message short and simple. Use a fourth-grade level vocabulary and edit until you’ve omitted all jargon. Make your story easy and quick to share.
- Realize storytelling is about people, not just numbers. Deliver emotional content with a purpose. Highlight a real person going through a real thing.
- Make it memorable. Fact sheets on their own aren’t memorable. Tell a story where you solved a problem or where real people are being affected by what’s going on.
- Let everyone participate. Build a culture of storytelling in the workplace. It’s everyone’s job. Encourage people to tell stories in their own words so you have different voices.
Although the best stories often can be generated by a writer on staff, there are still times to turn to the media to raise visibility for an announcement, event or issue. Organizations often believe they need to safeguard their brand by only focusing on the positive. They usually contact a reporter once they’ve had a big win. But you’re more likely to land coverage if you are upfront and honest about your successes and struggles — at the time you are facing them. Reporters value results, but they love telling process stories.
Here are six tips for media coverage:
- Know what they’re saying about you. Use a media monitoring service. If you can’t afford a service like Cision or Meltwater, sign up for Google alerts.
- Go where the reporters are. Sign up for HARO (help a reporter out), a daily email that helps reporters find sources for stories they already are working on.
- Get smart on social media. Follow your favorite reporters on Twitter and retweet them when it makes sense. Start building a relationship — well before you make your first request for coverage.
- Build your own newsroom. Post your press releases on your website. When a journalist visits your site, this provides them with background information on you that they like to have before reaching out.
- Be your own reporter. Take photos and videos. Post online immediately. Or stream to Facebook Live.
- Repurpose content. Turn that failed op ed into a video script for Facebook Live. Post your own stories on Huffington Post or Medium.
So the next time you and your communications staff meet, remember there’s more than one way to tell a story. Try different formats and venues for pushing out your content, and measure the responses and results you get, whether that’s visits to your website, clicks in your newsletter or comments from community members.
Achieving a shared community vision — one of the four pillars of the StriveTogether approach — requires frequent and consistent communications, and storytelling and media coverage remain among the best ways to highlight the work in your community.