Storytelling for Action - Unite for Sight 2011


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How storytelling helps non-governmental organizations and nonprofits raise awareness and elicit actions

Storytelling for Action - Unite for Sight 2011

  1. 1. Storytelling for Action Unite for Sight Global Health and Innovation Conference Yale University New Haven, Connecticut April 17, 2011 Roger Burks, Senior Writer at Mercy Corps and Co-Founder of Pictographers @loudmind
  2. 2. Introduction Roger Burks
  3. 3. <ul><li>Empowering yourself as a storyteller </li></ul><ul><li>2. Telling better stories online </li></ul><ul><li>3. Creating a culture of storytelling </li></ul>
  4. 4. 1. Empowering yourself as a storyteller
  5. 5. <ul><li>The conveying of events through words, images, sounds, expressions and gestures </li></ul><ul><li>A way to reach out, connect and share something with others </li></ul><ul><li>The world’s oldest profession </li></ul>What is storytelling?
  6. 6. Another important definition Technology is the usage and knowledge of tools, techniques, crafts, systems or methods of organization in order to solve a problem or serve some purpose.
  7. 7. What is storytelling? Storytelling = the world’s first technology
  8. 8. What is storytelling? Throughout history and humanity, storytelling has evolved and driven invention.
  9. 9. The Storyteller’s Toolkit And that’s because, within each one of us, we’ve always had the basic tools we needed to share stories with each other.
  10. 10. It’s personal <ul><li>To tell a truly compelling and memorable story, you need a personal: </li></ul><ul><li>Reason why you write (credo) </li></ul><ul><li>Connection to the subject </li></ul><ul><li>Connection to yourself </li></ul><ul><li>Connection to your audience </li></ul>
  11. 11. It’s personal: heart and mind
  12. 12. Personal connection to the subject
  13. 13. Personal connection to the subject <ul><li>Preparation </li></ul><ul><li>Gather the tools that will serve you best in getting the story you need. </li></ul><ul><li>Do some research on the situation or topic you’re about to cover. </li></ul><ul><li>Come up with a list of 9-10 questions that will inform – but not limit – your interview. </li></ul>
  14. 14. Personal connection to the subject <ul><li>Observation and attention to detail </li></ul><ul><li>What are the details that capture you? Write them down, right then. </li></ul><ul><li>Take note of details not just during, but also before and after the interview. </li></ul><ul><li>Your own thoughts and feelings are important details. </li></ul>
  15. 15. Personal connection to the subject <ul><li>Don’t approach it as a job, but as an opportunity </li></ul><ul><li>This is your chance to meet and learn something about another person. </li></ul><ul><li>Genuine interest breaks barriers. </li></ul><ul><li>Your own curiosity makes for good interviews and sustained interactions. </li></ul>
  16. 16. Personal connection to the subject Think of it more as a conversation than an interview.
  17. 17. Personal connection to the subject <ul><li>Use pen and paper as part of the process </li></ul><ul><li>“ The act of writing gives physical form to thoughts.” </li></ul><ul><li>Easier to transcribe subtle details, observations and feelings. </li></ul><ul><li>A notebook of your interviews and notes is permanent and tangible. </li></ul>
  18. 18. Personal connection to the subject
  19. 19. Personal connection to yourself
  20. 20. Personal connection to yourself “ I’ll know my song well before I start singing.” Bob Dylan
  21. 21. Personal connection to yourself <ul><li>You know a good story right away </li></ul><ul><li>It hits you square in the chest or in the gut. </li></ul><ul><li>You remember a lot of the story without looking at your notes. </li></ul><ul><li>You absolutely can’t wait to tell it. </li></ul>
  22. 22. Personal connection to yourself <ul><li>Write (somewhat) how you speak </li></ul><ul><li>Authenticity of voice </li></ul><ul><li>Conversational quality and tone </li></ul><ul><li>Ability to develop your own style </li></ul><ul><li>Feeling for readers that they’re connecting with your cause or organization on a personal level </li></ul>
  23. 23. Personal connection to yourself Get it all out there at once – edit and filter later.
  24. 24. Personal connection to yourself
  25. 25. Personal connection to your audience
  26. 26. Personal connection to your audience <ul><li>Show, don’t tell </li></ul><ul><li>Let the words come from the conversations that you’ve had. </li></ul><ul><li>Bring the reader along with you; show them what you’ve seen. </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t be afraid to show the reader how you felt. </li></ul><ul><li>Bring unmistakable passion and commitment to your stories. </li></ul>
  27. 27. <ul><li>Give them familiarity </li></ul><ul><li>There are a few classic, key elements to most every compelling story: </li></ul><ul><li>Main character/protagonist </li></ul><ul><li>Sense of place </li></ul><ul><li>Emotional connection/empathy </li></ul><ul><li>Conflict </li></ul><ul><li>Resolution </li></ul><ul><li>Like any good story, a good nonprofit piece is an engaging experience for readers. </li></ul>Personal connection to your audience
  28. 28. Personal connection to your audience <ul><li>Be the stories you tell </li></ul><ul><li>Establish yourself as a consistent, trustworthy voice for your organization. </li></ul><ul><li>Be a dependable storyteller and source of stories for your colleagues. </li></ul><ul><li>Lend your storytelling voice to your cause or organization’s social media efforts. </li></ul>
  29. 29. 2. Telling better stories online
  30. 30. We all tell stories daily - we share with friends and family how our days were, how we felt, who we met, things we found out and other interesting pieces of information. We are made from stories. Storytelling is at the heart of who we are
  31. 31. Storytelling is at the heart of who we are <ul><li>Why is storytelling important to organizations? </li></ul><ul><li>To engage supporters and attract donors </li></ul><ul><li>To inform of news and events </li></ul><ul><li>To report back and show accountability </li></ul><ul><li>To define who we are </li></ul><ul><li>And, most importantly… </li></ul>
  32. 32. Storytelling is at the heart of who we are <ul><li>TO PERSUADE. Our main task as communicators for nonprofits and NGOs is to persuade our readers to: </li></ul><ul><li>Give a donation </li></ul><ul><li>Volunteer their time </li></ul><ul><li>Spread the word about what we’re doing </li></ul><ul><li>Take other action on our behalf </li></ul>
  33. 33. Storytelling is at the heart of who we are How do you do that? You tell them a story. Why?
  34. 34. Storytelling is at the heart of who we are Because PEOPLE RELATE TO OTHER PEOPLE - NOT PROGRAMS. Which is the more compelling story to you? “ Mercy Corps Congo prevents morbidity and mortality by providing lifesaving services to both displaced families and the general population, filling gaps in water and sanitation services when needed, and advocating for improved services within the humanitarian coordination units .” Or…
  35. 35. Storytelling is at the heart of who we are “ Her name is Laurene. She lives in a church. She is 10 years old. “ She is among thousands of children who have taken refuge in urban Goma's gritty neighborhoods rather than risk dangers in the camps. They're being housed in churches, schools, community centers and other public buildings - but they're neither getting the food nor most of the other assistance that those in the camps are receiving. “ Mercy Corps has stepped up to fill the void and meet at least three of their most critical needs: clean water, sanitation and hygiene…but it's not easy to explain why we didn't bring food today. “ So Laurene sits quietly on a church pew, in the place she now calls home, and waits for something to eat.”
  36. 36. Storytelling is at the heart of who we are Some studies show that you have less than one minute to convince an online reader that your piece is worth reading. YOUR JOB: Connect your readers to a name, a face and a compelling story as quickly as possible. But how do you do that? Ask yourself these questions…
  37. 37. How to tell a better online story <ul><li>1. Is this a story that I </li></ul><ul><li>want to tell? </li></ul><ul><li>Would you tell this story to your friends? </li></ul><ul><li>Do you remember at least some parts of the story without looking at your notes? </li></ul><ul><li>Do feel passionate about the story? </li></ul><ul><li>If you’re not committed to </li></ul><ul><li>the story, your readers will </li></ul><ul><li>know. </li></ul>
  38. 38. How to tell a better online story <ul><li>2. Does the story have a </li></ul><ul><li>heartbeat? </li></ul><ul><li>Is there a human character at the center of the story? A sense of place, time and urgency? </li></ul><ul><li>Is there an emotional pull - do you find yourself cheering someone on? </li></ul><ul><li>Do you care about knowing what happens to the character? </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t be afraid to place </li></ul><ul><li>yourself in the story. </li></ul>
  39. 39. How to tell a better online story <ul><li>3. Is the story </li></ul><ul><li>transformative? </li></ul><ul><li>Three-act structure: introduction, struggle, solution (or resolution) </li></ul><ul><li>Are the challenges or issues clear? </li></ul><ul><li>Is it believable and honest? </li></ul><ul><li>This is the main indication of </li></ul><ul><li>action in the story, and can </li></ul><ul><li>impart things like success, </li></ul><ul><li>impending danger and </li></ul><ul><li>urgency to the reader. </li></ul>
  40. 40. How to tell a better online story <ul><li>4. Does it sound like my </li></ul><ul><li>cause or organization? </li></ul><ul><li>Know your audience: who are you talking to? </li></ul><ul><li>How does this fit in with your cause and what you want to be talking about? </li></ul><ul><li>In our stories at Mercy </li></ul><ul><li>Corps, we rarely if ever use </li></ul><ul><li>the word “victim” in any of </li></ul><ul><li>our stories; instead, we say </li></ul><ul><li>“ survivor.” That single </li></ul><ul><li>word choice is very </li></ul><ul><li>important to the way we </li></ul><ul><li>tell stories. </li></ul>
  41. 41. How to tell a better online story <ul><li>5. Does it have an </li></ul><ul><li>expiration date? </li></ul><ul><li>Are there elements that will quickly date the story’s impact? </li></ul><ul><li>Will the story be just as relevant a year from now? </li></ul><ul><li>Stories help define your </li></ul><ul><li>identity, tell the world why </li></ul><ul><li>your cause matters and </li></ul><ul><li>builds up evidence for why </li></ul><ul><li>people should support </li></ul><ul><li>what you’re doing. </li></ul>
  42. 42. How to tell a better online story <ul><li>6. Will it make the </li></ul><ul><li>reader want to do </li></ul><ul><li>something? </li></ul><ul><li>Is the story inspirational and the character memorable? </li></ul><ul><li>Is there a clear course of action that can be taken after reading the story? </li></ul><ul><li>How easy is it to take that action? </li></ul><ul><li>What do you want the </li></ul><ul><li>reader to do? What kind of </li></ul><ul><li>story do you need to write </li></ul><ul><li>to accomplish that? </li></ul>
  43. 43. How to tell a better online story Five steps to laying out a good online story 1. Compelling title/headline 2. Intriguing lead or hook 3. Good story-specific photos 4. Length – around 400-600 words – as well as short paragraphs 5. Ways to take action: donation links, petition, newsletter sign-ups, social networking tools
  44. 44. How it’s worked for Mercy Corps <ul><li>Stories drive entire fundraising strategy </li></ul><ul><li>Approximately $72 million raised online over the last ten years </li></ul><ul><li>Well over $10 million raised online for Haiti earthquake response and $3.5 million for Japan </li></ul><ul><li>More than 4,000 active online monthly givers </li></ul><ul><li>280K page views per month with 100K unique visitors (numbers rise to 1 million views and 375K unique in emergency) </li></ul>
  45. 45. 3. Creating a culture of storytelling (How Mercy Corps is doing it)
  46. 46. How to build your culture <ul><li>The Five Ws (and One H) </li></ul><ul><li>In journalism school, one of the first lessons we learn is the </li></ul><ul><li>basics of information gathering: </li></ul><ul><li>Who? </li></ul><ul><li>What? </li></ul><ul><li>When? </li></ul><ul><li>Where? </li></ul><ul><li>Why? </li></ul><ul><li>How? </li></ul><ul><li>This is how you get the full story on something. These are also </li></ul><ul><li>the questions you should ask as you build your culture </li></ul><ul><li>of storytelling. </li></ul>
  47. 47. How to build your culture Who… … is your champion? … is your core group of writers and contributors? … is your audience? … needs to buy in?
  48. 48. How to build your culture What… … are your stories? … are your opportunities? … are your challenges? … is the skill level and time commitment of your writers and contributors?
  49. 49. How to build your culture When… … do you plan to add and update stories? How often?
  50. 50. How to build your culture Where… … will you post these stories? … will you promote these stories?
  51. 51. How to build your culture Why… … will this benefit your organization?
  52. 52. How to build your culture How… … do you get started? … do you keep this going?
  53. 53. What a storytelling culture can look like (and how it can change)
  54. 54. What a storytelling culture can look like OUR CHALLENGE With four writers on staff, frequent staff contributors and stock from excellent freelance photographers, Mercy Corps was able to put together human interest stories, in-depth special reports and feature sections that rivaled high-end magazines. The problem? Most other staff was scared away from contributing anything at all.
  55. 55. OUR RE-EVALUATION: Focus on how our staff can participate more with limited time, training and access to technology. What a storytelling culture can look like
  56. 56. OUR REALIZATION: The content types we were offering on our website didn’t create enough opportunities for our diverse worldwide staff, made up of a variety of technical experts – and 95 percent host-country nationals. What a storytelling culture can look like
  57. 57. OUR SOLUTION The Mercy Corps Blog “ A daily look into the work, thoughts and ideas of our team around the world” Launched May 2009 What a storytelling culture can look like
  58. 58. OUR PITCH Q: So what should I write about? A: What are you passionate about? Ask yourself: Is this something I’d tell someone who doesn’t work for Mercy Corps? What are the things that make you excited about your job? Something interesting – or funny – that you come across in the course of your day? Your perspective on a current event or issue that has something to do with Mercy Corps’ work? What a storytelling culture can look like
  59. 59. <ul><li>OUR PITCH </li></ul><ul><li>Some ideas for blog posts: </li></ul><ul><li>Field reports </li></ul><ul><li>Commentary on a news story you’ve read </li></ul><ul><li>News about a grant we’ve been awarded </li></ul><ul><li>Book review </li></ul><ul><li>Publicity for an upcoming event </li></ul><ul><li>A new innovation or idea that we’re using </li></ul><ul><li>Personal observations </li></ul><ul><li>Beneficiary story </li></ul><ul><li>Link to YouTube video (with short introduction) </li></ul><ul><li>Photo with long caption </li></ul><ul><li>This blog exists to help readers experience who we are and what we do through the words of our staff across the world. </li></ul>What a storytelling culture can look like
  60. 60. <ul><li>OUR RESULTS </li></ul><ul><li>Already 896 entries in less than two years </li></ul><ul><li>225 unique bloggers from 41 countries </li></ul><ul><li>Highly technical, topical and timely </li></ul><ul><li>Bloggers can post their entries directly to the website, into a moderation queue </li></ul><ul><li>(I have written about 90 entries for the blog.) </li></ul>What a storytelling culture can look like
  61. 61. <ul><li>OUR RESULTS </li></ul><ul><li>Disasters in Indonesia, Samoa and Haiti were our first test of real-time emergency blogging </li></ul><ul><li>More than 25 field correspondents </li></ul><ul><li>182 blog posts about Haiti from more than 30 bloggers (field and headquarters) </li></ul><ul><li>Frequent updates encourage return visits (and possible donations) </li></ul>What a storytelling culture can look like
  62. 62. “ Your Facebook page and web site has kept me up to date much faster than the standard media seems to have done. I've just been looking around the net for information and you were right there.” – Darcy Sholts, a comment on the Mercy Corps Facebook page What a storytelling culture can look like
  63. 63. <ul><li>EFFECT ON SOCIAL MEDIA </li></ul><ul><li>Links to the Blog have become our main social media strategy – an extension of our storytelling culture. </li></ul><ul><li>Since January 12, 2010 we have gained: </li></ul><ul><li>19,700 Facebook fans (started with 4,000) </li></ul><ul><li>8,300 Twitter followers (started with 1,500) </li></ul><ul><li>More than $40,000 in donations through social media-sourced links </li></ul>What a storytelling culture can look like
  64. 64. Don’t underestimate the potential of your staff as an audience. If your staff read your stories on an ongoing basis, you have a better chance to turn them into storytellers. They’re also great at spreading your organization’s stories through their own social media networks. What a storytelling culture can look like
  65. 65. Training staff to be storytellers
  66. 66. A variety of stories to capture a variety of experiences From a recent content inventory: Beneficiary or client story Autobiographical piece Field visit Personal reflection Staff profile/interview Program update News update Emergency update Photo essay Photo with long caption Audio slideshow Video with long caption Rough video Stand-up video Polished short-form video Polished long-form video Video interview Event- or campaign-driven video Written travelogue Technically-focused piece Poem
  67. 67. Stories endure and make a difference
  68. 68. Storytelling mantras <ul><li>Four mantras to </li></ul><ul><li>remember: </li></ul><ul><li>Authenticity, not polish </li></ul><ul><li>Encouragement, not pressure </li></ul><ul><li>Quality, not quantity </li></ul><ul><li>Show, don’t tell </li></ul>
  69. 69. Storytelling mantras “ You don’t go to a museum to read the placards…you go to look at the art.” How are you displaying your organization’s or cause’s art?
  70. 70. Thank you! Roger Burks Email: [email_address] [email_address] Blog: Twitter: @loudmind