Principles of strategic story telling
Storytelling is a great way to educate, inspire and engage people, because it helps you connect with people on multiple levels.
What is strategic storytelling?
Strategic storytelling is all about telling stories with purpose by inspiring and engaging people to support your organisation in achieving its goals. Psychological research shows that motivating people to work toward a goal requires painting an inspiring vision of the future and explaining the challenges that must be overcome along the way.
Why use strategic storytelling?
Strategic stories can:
- Raise awareness of the cause
- Encourage people to care about the cause
- Help people understand the problem and solution
- Create a sense of urgency to take action
- Show people what actions they can take to help
You can use this narrative framework to plot out the main ideas you want to convey in your stories. Then, you can create stories about specific individuals and situations that illustrate these ideas.
Who are the people most affected by your cause?
Stories put people front and center. Your audiences are more likely to understand and care about your cause if they can relate to the people in your stories and see how the issue affects people’s lives.
Who contributes to your cause? What are they doing to create change?
Importantly, people are more motivated to support a cause when they feel that they’re joining forces with others who share their values and interests. It’s important to share stories about people who help make change happen, whether they bring ideas, effort or resources to the cause.
They could be your own staff members, volunteers, donors, thought leaders—anyone who is contributing to the cause in a meaningful way. What are they like as people? Why do they get involved?
What specific problem is your organization or even the specific project you are writing about trying to solve?
In order for people to support your organization’s work, they need to understand both the needs addressed by your organization and the specific solutions you offer to meet those needs. You might deal with highly complex problems, but it’s important to keep the explanation as simple as possible. Complexity demotivates people—the problem needs to sound solvable, not insurmountable. To encourage people to care about the problem, you need to show how it affects people’s lives.
What solution do you offer?
Your solution should connect directly to the problem, in a simple and straightforward explanation. People are most likely to take action in support of concrete goals, rather than abstract outcomes. So be as specific as you can about your solutions and how they improve people’s lives.
Who is helping you?
Think about the people that are helping you to overcome the problem and advance the solution. These supporters may be staff, volunteers, donors or partner organisations. These people can also play an important role in the stories you tell. They are people who want to see themselves in your work, so be sure to paint a clear picture of who can help and how. What are the most important ways these supporters can help your organisation advance your cause?
What do you want them to do?
Your stories should always include a call to action—a message that creates a sense of urgency to act, followed by a specific action that people can take. Emotion works hand-in-hand with cognition to aid in attention, retention and motivation. This has important implications for storytelling: If people don’t feel an emotional reaction to a story, they won’t remember it, much less be motivated to act.
Think about your audience
Some audiences will be aware of the cause and care about it, but not understand the problem and solution. Others may understand, but not feel a sense of urgency to act.
Thinking about what each audience specifically needs to hear will guide the creation of your stories. One story can help move people from awareness all the way to action but some stories can focus on the information needed to raise awareness or only focus on changing attitudes. Produce stories to help you meet your objectives based on where your audiences currently are.