Everyone likes a good story. But not everyone tells one well. Last week I attended a conference and heard a great topic and speaker – “Storytelling as Best Practice” by Andy Goodman. Storytelling sounds easy, and sometimes it can be with personal stories told among friends and family. For organizations it can be very difficult, but also very effective to get a message across … if you do it right.
Goodman’s consulting firm, a goodman, specializes in public interest and strategic communications and focuses on public interest organizations, foundations and progressive businesses. As their slogan, “good ideas for good causes” implies, they help groups tell their stories and get meaningful results. They even have a free e-newsletter called Free-range Thinking that provides a variety of tips and best practices.
So what are the key elements of writing a story and how you tell it? The five-step approach is to start with the “who’s it about.” Then get into “what they want” followed by “what’s in the way.” Close with the “what to do” and finally the “what meaning to take away.” In simpler terms, Goodman described it as having a protagonist, an inciting incident, overcoming barriers, having a resolution, and then achieving a goal. Just like acts in a play.
In journalistic storytelling, you start with all the facts up front (who/what, when, why, where, how) and then provide background and detail as support, with the idea being the reader can stop after the first paragraph and still get the picture. Sometimes you even write in bullet points to get the key messages across fast. We do a lot of that here at INCPAS. But in narrative storytelling, you follow the formula I mentioned above and build interest and intrigue throughout. In other words, don’t tell them everything up front and encourage them to read until the end.
So why is storytelling (the narrative kind) so powerful for organizations? It can make things you do more personal and bring them closer to home. And it can add more depth and more meaning to your messages that you are trying to get across. Bullet points can quickly state facts, but that only goes so far and sometimes can be misconstrued. A good story can connect the dots and engage readers while also presenting the same facts.
Goodman discussed five types of core stories that organizations should have. First, the “how we started story.” Second, the “emblematic success stories.” Third, the “values stories.” Fourth, the “striving-to-improve” stories. And fifth, the “where are we going stories.” Not only is it important to have those stories, but also for everyone who represents the organization (leadership and staff) to know them and be able to tell them.
INCPAS has a lot of stories to tell, and I am sure your firms, companies and educational institutions do as well. Even in this age of texting and tweeting where we try to use as few words as possible, take time to practice the art of storytelling where both the content and the context are easier to control and understand. What’s your story?