A guide to how stories work, how to tell your story and why you should
When my daughter was little she loved stories. She wanted to hear stories all the time. So I read books to her.
When we visited my parents, she asked grandpa to read her a story. No problem, he picked up the Burpee seed catalog and “read” a fascinating tale.
Of course, when she handed me the catalog and asked me to read it, I was at a loss. I had forgotten the art of storytelling. Unlike my father I had stopped using my imagination to captivate an audience.
Now I know better. I know we all have the capacity to share stories. It’s a gift given to everyone. The rewards are amazing. They go way beyond entertaining children.
Follow me, let’s see why stories are so powerful…
You have many stories. They come from personal experience. They come from outside influences. They come from your imagination.
You also have the ability to repurpose those stories to inspire people to listen.
My daughter is all grown up now but she was my first audience. Once I understood the importance of stories I began to use them in my work. I became a marketer.
I was good at it! Why? Because stories inspire action and that’s just what a marketer needs to do.
In those days, I was selling technology training (yes, it was as boring as it sounds). But there was a huge market and all I needed to do was tap into it. I found out how to write – how to tell a story – that made those corporate techies sign up.
Luckily for me, I switched to marketing for nonprofits. It’s much more rewarding. You, and every nonprofit, have wonderful stories to share.
And those stories inspire people to care about what you care about. To believe you hold the solution. To give you time and money because they care that much.
Yes, stories do that and more.
There’s a science behind the magic of storytelling. It’s brain science.
Our brains are very complex. There are new discoveries being made so we can understand more and more about what makes us tick.
But here’s what you need to know now: there is one part of the brain, the limbic system, where feelings hang out. When that’s working like it should, we have the ability to feel emotions – happy, sad, scared, surprised and mad.
When we hear a good story, one or more of those emotions comes right up. We react.
Now, here’s the kicker! Decisions are made in the same part of the brain. You would think decisions come from logic. But no. Logic and language are in a different part of your brain.
Here’s how it happens…you hear a story. You have an emotional reaction. Just like that, you’ve made a decision.
Why? Because decisions are made right there in the limbic system. That’s why we say things like “I feel it in my gut.” Or “it just feels right.”
Let’s say I want you to give me a donation. I tell you a story. That limbic system hops to it. It says, “I care about what she is saying.” It might even say, “I want to do something about this.”
Now that part of your brain can’t talk. That job is left to the logical part. So, unlike a child who goes with her gut, you may be more guarded. In that case, you may start to consider the facts. Or you may ask a question.
That’s okay. You see as a nonprofit leader you can tell a really great story. Then, after you’ve shared that story, you can back it up with facts and figures to satisfy the logical thinkers.
But first you need to appeal to their emotions so they listen to what you have to say and care about what you need and want.
The more you tell your stories, the better you tell them. Your ability to motivate and inspire keeps getting greater.
Now, you may be wondering how to become a great storyteller. It’s as easy as a fairy tale.
You know fairy tales, they are great examples of stories that are told over and over again. We all know the basic story of Cinderella or Snow White.
I’ve borrowed something from these stories. It’s my magic formula for how to tell a great story.
It’s easy to learn and use. You’ll get good at it in no time! It basically goes like this:
Once upon a time…
Happily ever after.
Your story can be told the same way. Most every story you know follows a similar arc. Something goes wrong, a solution is found (maybe because a hero, like you, comes along) and the story ends on a happy note.
You have stories to tell.
You and your organization have many stories to draw from. Once you start about stories you’ll find just the right one comes to mind when you need.
There are a few elements of a great story that help it be memorable. A memorable story is great because the listener can retell it. So the story goes on working for you.
Your best stories will be simple enough for anyone to understand and follow.
They may surprise the listener. A twist in the plot is a great attention getter.
You’ll get good at telling a solid story, one that just the right amount of detail. When you leave out the side stories you can relay a powerful message.
Finally, leave in the details that make you a reliable source of information. Use names (first names are good), establish your own credibility as a knowledgeable and caring person.
A well told story has more power than any numbers or facts. Become a good story teller and you will attract more of the resources you need – to be a strong leader and to build a great organization.
Story is the most basic tool you can use, and the most effective. Remember the lesson I learned when my dad read the seed catalog, we all have stories to tell, magical stories.
Merle Benny joyfully helps nonprofit leaders grow and thrive by being innovative and creative leaders who attract the resources they need. And she has fun doing it. Connect with Merle to find out how you can become a Nonprofit Champion.