The Power of Written Storytelling

Being able to tell your organization’s stories is vital to connecting with your audience. (Again, when I use the word story, I’m talking about a true tale, nonfiction).

How you tell your stories will determine who will be moved by them. You can find inspiring stories, whether you’re at a nonprofit or a business, by spending time with the peo­ple you are help­ing. I under­stand this can be dif­fi­cult, espe­cially if it’s not part of your reg­u­lar job descrip­tion. It’s often easy to get bogged down with daily duties.

In other instances, public rela­tions man­agers focus their atten­tion on get­ting the organization’s mes­sage out to the traditional news media. That used to be the most important way to reach a large audience.  And while good media coverage still matters, some­one in your orga­ni­za­tion should also be aware that a big part of what you should be doing is telling sto­ries to your audi­ence directly. This allows your audi­ence to feel a greater con­nec­tion to you.

Once you find a story to tell, it’s also impor­tant to craft it in a way that imme­di­ately grabs the reader’s attention. It’s essen­tial that you iden­tify what part of your story will do this, as well as how to struc­ture it. The fol­low­ing series will walk you through how to write the beginning, middle, and end of a story.

1. The Power of Written Storytelling: The Beginning (Part 1)

2. The Power of Written Storytelling: The Middle: Why Does Your Story Matter? (Part 2)

3. The Power of Written Storytelling: The Middle: Setting the Scene by Reporting the Story to Death (Part 3)

4. The Power of Written Storytelling: The Middle: Adding Flavor (Part 4)

5. The Power of Written Storytelling: The End: Why Write Awesome Endings? (Part 5)

Also, check out: Nonprofits Telling Awesome Stories: charity: water (Part 1) and Tyler Riewer’s Adventures With charity: water

Plus, Serial Storytelling on Social Media.

The Power of Written Storytelling: The Middle: Why Does Your Story Matter? (Part 2)

This is the second part of a series of posts about writing a story. (Again, when I write the word story, I mean a true tale, nonfiction). Here, I will discuss why your story matters and how to convey that.

This is the city of Seattle.

The more you can explain the significance of the story and why it matters the more people you will reach. (Photo credit: Ron Henry)

Have you ever started watching a TV show and season one is so absolutely amazing that you’re obsessively glued to the screen? So much so that you don’t hear the doorbell, you unconsciously ignore your ringing phone, and your significant other has given up trying to tell you about his horrible day and gone in the bedroom and slammed the door. None of this registers.

Then season two comes around, and it might be almost as amazing, but you can tell it’s starting to go downhill (which may actually be a good thing for your personal life). There may be a few things you frown about, and you forgive them because season one was so great and you’re really hooked on the characters. But then season three is pretty bad (you can’t deny it anymore), and season four is dreadful, but you’re loyal and you keep watching. It doesn’t get better, and you feel like you’ve been conned.

Well, when you’re writing a story for your organization you will have much less time to keep people engaged. People will stick around for lousy TV shows because they’re hooked, but when it comes to your story, they have a million other things to do (including watching those lousy TV shows). So ultimately, you have to find a way to keep them engaged, and it has to be totally stellar.

We discussed how to engage your readers in the beginning. The next few posts are going to discuss some tips on how to keep your readers’ attention through the middle of the story.

Why Does Your Story Matter?

This is exactly what you need to answer in the first few paragraphs.

For example, in “Invis­i­ble Child: Girl in the Shad­ows: Dasani’s Home­less Life” in The New York Times, reporter Andrea Elliott pulls you in by telling you about one child, Dasani, who lives in horrible conditions in a single room at a shelter with her seven siblings and her parents.

Then she broadens this and tells you Dasani is just one of 280 children at that shelter, and 22,000 homeless children live in New York, which, she writes, is “the highest number since the Great Depression, in the most unequal metropolis in America.”

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The Power of Written Storytelling: The Beginning (Part 1)

They can be dangerous to make.

Fireworks are homemade in many countries around the world. (Photo credit: Brunty)

For five years Chea Chok sat by the shade of a tree in his yard outside Phnom Penh, Cambodia making fireworks by putting explosive ingredients into makeshift tubes. Then one day his attention slipped for just a minute and he thinks he probably added too much of one ingredient.

The firework exploded, badly burning Chea Chok’s left hand and right eye. Unconscious, he was driven to a hospital 40-km away, where part of his arm was amputated. His eye, turned light blue, is now useless.

This is the start of a story I wrote in 2002 when I was in Cambodia. Let me be clear. When I write the word story, I mean a true tale, nonfiction. I’ve never forgotten talking to him about it about a year after the accident, when, for lack of options, he was back at his trade.

Why It’s Important for Organizations to Tell Their Own Stories

I believe stories like this can be found everywhere, whether you work for a nonprofit or a business. You just need to spend enough time with the people you are helping to be able to find them. I understand this can be difficult, especially if it’s not part of your regular job description. It’s often easy to get bogged down with daily duties.

In other instances, media relations managers focus their attention on getting the organization’s message out to the media. While this is fine, someone in your organization should also be aware that a big part of what you should be doing is telling stories to your audience directly. This allows your audience to feel a greater connection to you. (By the way, this is what big brands are doing. I’m going to write a separate post on that soon as well).

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