In our noisy and increasingly uncertain world, stories have never been more important in helping us connect and communicate with meaning.
“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” Philip Pullman
On a simple level, stories help us cut through information overwhelm and bring an issue to life. They capture our attention. Just think about the millions of people Marcus Rashford has connected with by sharing his story of receiving free school meals as a child.
But the best stories do more – they also persuade and motivate. As leading storyteller Bobette Buster puts it: “The number one question … your audience is asking is, ‘Why should I care?’ The central desire of anyone listening to a story is that they want to be moved. An audience is always asking: please move me so that I will care. I want to be moved.”
To answer that call, I recommend that organisations start by using the context of the case they are trying to make, so you can engage emotionally. Then tailor your story to the key needs of your audience – needs you will have taken time and effort to really understand. Speak to their concerns in their language. Most importantly, be clear about what you want them to do after hearing your story. By giving them practical advice and direction, you empower them to take action and make your story their own. For me, a great example of a non-profit successfully putting storytelling at the heart of its communication to get people to take action is Charity: water
Storytelling also helps us as humans make sense and derive meaning. Listening to stories gives us new perspectives and a better understanding of the world around us. We all challenge and expand our own understanding by exploring how others see and understand the world through their lens. For a wonderful example of a story as a meaningful message that inspires, take a look at ‘save the shoes’.
I tell my clients, large and small, that any organisation, just like any person, can tell a powerful story, just watch this Ted Talk. It doesn’t require a big budget or corporate partnership, just time to capture strong and authentic content and some simple tools to share it. Another real benefit for organisations I work with in the non-profit sector, is that by supporting a storyteller in telling their true story they are also giving those who may otherwise be unheard a voice and a chance to be seen, as St Mungo’s Home for Good campaign shows.
Ultimately, by sharing and listening to stories, we connect as human beings. Stories teach us empathy, allow us to walk in someone else’s shoes and help us make sense of our increasingly crazy world. And isn’t that what all of us in the non-profit world are about – working together to show why and how we can as human beings change things for the better?