If your association or organization creates regular media content you may have faced the problem of finding fresh, relevant and interesting topics and stories for your industry.
I used to be in charge of all news content on a national broadcaster so I know the feeling. For us it was particularly challenging, because all of our stories had to be focused on weather.
So what’s the best way to come up with fresh and relevant story ideas? In a word – diversity.
Factors like culture, background, gender and ability play into how each of us see the world and also what stories we tell. Typically the voices and points of view of diverse groups (people of colour, people with disabilities, the aboriginal community and even women) don’t get told nearly as often – meaning they’re original, different, and often timely.
What Black History Month taught me about finding new story ideas
One February day, during our corporate diversity committee meeting, someone suggested that we do a series of stories on black history which I quickly dismissed – after all what does black history have to do with weather?
But after the meeting, I began to have second thoughts. Maybe there was a connection.
I thought again about what little I knew about Black History. I knew that during the days of underground railroad, slaves escaped northward into Canada from the deep south. I began to imagine what it must have been like travel hundreds of miles from a sub-tropical climate like Georgia only to get hit with a brutally cold and snowy Canadian winter.
I suggested this idea to one of my reporters and she found a wonderful Black history museum in Nova Scotia run by two amazing volunteers who were able to tell dramatic stories about freed slaves trying to survive a Canadian winter with only the light clothing on their backs.
As soon as it aired, this black history series was incredibly popular with ALL of our viewers because it highlighted a story and a perspective that most of us hadn’t thought about. It also won one of the most prestigious journalism awards that year.
As a result, it changed the way our news organization came up with new story ideas.
How to explore diversity in your story content
Now in your industry, there are probably common topics that you write about on a regular basis.
For us, it was snow.
So we thought to ourselves. How does snow impact people of different backgrounds and abilities differently? How about people with disabilities? After some research we found out that it’s extremely difficult to train a new seeing-eye dog when the snowdrifts along sidewalks are taller than the dog. We also did a stories about how challenging it is using a wheelchair on sidewalks which are snowy or icy.
Ultimately, all of our best stories that year came from this simple question. A question you can use in your own organization. ‘How does ___________ impact people of differing backgrounds in different ways?”
The benefits of telling diverse stories
Diverse storytelling has many benefits to your organization, but of course there are larger benefits to our community and the world at large. Ultimately, we all want to be heard and have our stories told. We also want to feel the organizations we belong to acknowledge our reality.
If you want to know more about how you can improve the diversity in your organization’s storytelling, consider booking my latest program on diversity and storytelling for your organization. For more information you can contact me here.
Like many organizations, associations are recognizing the power of stories to communicate important information as well as inspire their audiences to action. But what makes stories effective? And how do we tell them with purpose so that they achieve the desired result?
Stories are like the Swiss Army knife of communications. They can be used in many forms and for many reasons. You can use stories in presentations, articles, videos, social media posts, interviews or even in one-on-one communication through email, phone, or face to face.
Knowing how to tell a story purposefully, powerfully and concisely will allow you to master any media and will help you adjust your narrative to suit the communication.
Whether you wish to increase membership retention, influence governments or outside agencies, educate the public about what you do, or raise money for a needed cause, being able to tell a story using the structure I’m going to share with you will allow your association to reach its audience in a way that’s engaging, understandable and most importantly repeatable!
Why Stories Are A Powerful Way for Associations to Communicate
Stories are a form of virtual reality that evolved in humans as a way to make communication and learning easier. Stories pre-date not only written language but also spoken language — in fact, you can picture our pre-historic ancestors around the fire acting out stories that happened to them that day.
Because stories are essential to our survival as a species, they remain the easiest and most powerful way to communicate with people.
Stories are so ingrained in our culture that they can influence us more powerfully than facts. When Peter Benchley wrote the best-selling novel Jaws in 1974, he didn’t realize that his book, and the blockbuster film that followed, would change human behavior on a massive scale.
In the decades following the story’s release, recreational swimming in the ocean declined dramatically, while shark hunting became increasingly popular. All this despite assurances from scientists that shark attacks were extremely rare and people had nothing to fear. This behavior change gave rise to a term called The Jaws Effect, which described the power of a story to transcend facts in the public mind.
So how can you use this powerful tool of communication to achieve your association’s goals?
Understanding Your Audience and Your Message
A purposeful story starts with knowing who you are communicating with, and what you want them to do or think.
Once you know your audience, you want to make sure the story is told from a perspective they’ll relate to. You’ll also want to have a clear underlying message. Remember, in purposeful storytelling, your story is simply a delivery vehicle. If your underlying message doesn’t get across then the story has failed.
How to Structure a Purposeful Story for Your Association
The basic structure of a story is called an arc. The most popular arc is shaped like a smile and has a happy ending. When telling a story with a purpose, the arc generally has five plot points:
1. Set-up: We introduce the main character and what they want. Generally, the character is a person, although it could also be an organization. 2. Problem: The character encounters an obstacle that keeps them from what they want to achieve. 3.Turning Point: The problem gets worse and the character hits rock bottom. Then something happens that makes the character’s situation improve. 4. Insight: The character learns something or develops a different attitude or approach to their problem. 5. Conclusion: With the use of this new insight, the character overcomes the obstacle and achieves their goal.
Applying the Purposeful Story Arc to Your Association Goals:
Let’s look at an example of how we can use these points to create a story that could be used to increase an association’s membership.
Let’s assume The Canadian Association of Professional Speakers(C.A.P.S.) is on a recruitment and retention drive and decide to tell success stories about how C.A.P.S. has helped its members. In this case, they tell the story of a speaker named Jane Good. Here’s how the basic story arc might look.
(Setup:) Jane was a successful business expert who became an in-demand speaker following a prominent interview on a national broadcaster. (Problem:) The first year she coasted on her fame, but in the second, her speaker earnings plateaued. (Turning point:) By the third year, the phone stopped ringing. She needed to get more bookings and also wanted to learn more about the craft of speaking. She found out about the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers and joined up. (Insight:) Through C.A.P.S., Jane built relationships with other speakers which led to more referrals and opportunities. Through association meetings and professional development programs, she learned not only how to become a better speaker, but also how to create effective marketing and speaker-specific business systems that helped her build consistent revenue streams. (Conclusion:) Two years after joining C.A.P.S., Jane doubled both her bookings and her income and has become one of the most well-known and respected speakers in the industry.
You can see the power in this simple narrative structure. If the person you’re trying to attract sees themselves in the main character and has similar problems or issues, they’ll want to follow the same path to success. That path would lead them to the exact outcome you want — in this case joining your association.
True-life stories about an identifiable person or organization tend to have the most powerful impact and are a good form of social proof. However, in some instances, you may need to use a hypothetical character, or change certain details for privacy reasons. You can also use artistic license to combine elements from two or more stories into one. In fact, due to the challenges of telling a complex story in a short period of time, you have a fair bit of leeway to edit the details as long as you don’t make specific claims that are untrue.
Types of Stories That Can Benefit Your Association
Purposeful stories don’t need to stop with association membership. Stories can also be used to highlight how your association serves its community. Health Partners, a Canadian charitable organization that provides services for people with chronic illnesses, has an entire webpage of short videos devoted to telling the stories of those they have helped. These stories act as social proof that donations to their charities make a difference in real people’s lives.
Stories are also a great way to educate your audience. In fact, due to lessons learned from the movie Jaws, the Oceanic Preservation Society now uses storytelling exclusively to show how human behaviour negatively impacts marine life.
To sum up, stories are an all-purpose communication tool that can be used by any association to manage change, sell ideas, and inspire action. Regardless of the media you use, stories wrap your message in an intimate human experience that has the greatest impact on your audience.
Jason Reid works with individuals, associations, and businesses, helping them tell purposeful stories, and create entertaining presentations that influence, sell, and inspire action. A professional speaker, former TV writer, and award-winning journalist, Jason recognizes the power of good storytelling to communicate ideas in all aspects of business, leadership, and life.
Many people confuse the idea suspense with surprise. Here’s the difference between the two, as well as the biggest tip on how to add suspense to your story.
Suspense vs. Surprise
Surprise is when something dramatic happens in your story without warning. Not only is the audience surprised but the character in the story is surprised at the same time.
Let’s contrast this with the idea of suspense. In suspense, you let the audience know of a danger that character IN the story doesn’t realize yet. This makes every small moment in that scene dramatic, because the audience knows that the stakes are high – and THIS GRABS PEOPLE’S ATTENTION.
So let me give you an example from film and then talk about how you could use this yourself if you’re telling a story from a stage or just to a friend.
How Alfred Hitchcock built suspense
The original master of suspense in modern film is Alfred Hitchcock. In a famous early film, called Sabotage, he had a scene where a boy takes a package on a bus. No one in the scene realized that IN that package is a bomb.
So Hitchcock could have simply shown the bomb blow up, which would have surprised us just as much as the characters. But instead, he lets the audience know about the bomb. That makes the next five minutes in the scene full of drama. Every mundane moment is drawn out and heightened, pulling every single audience member into the story so that we’re all paying attention when the bomb actually goes off.
In this case, suspense is much more effective than surprise.
So how can you use suspense when you’re telling your story?
Let’s say you’re telling a story about being in line for a show on a cold night when someone suddenly butts in line in front of you. Words are exchanged, tension rises, maybe tempers start to get hot. And imagine that after this exchange, someone comes up up to you and tells you the person you were arguing with is a former Mixed Martial Arts Champion with a reputation for assaulting strangers.
Whew. That’s quite the story, especially this surprise at the end.But imagine how much better it would be if you let your audience KNOW this crucial piece of information at the BEGINNING of the story – even when you’re still unaware of it.
Every small event in that scene will be heightened in the audiences mind because THEY’RE aware of a danger that you’re not.
How to introduce suspense
So how do you do it? It’s simple. You could say something like. “It’s a freezing night and suddenly this little guy butts in front of me. Now I’m not in the mood to take any rudeness from anyone. So I’m going to tell this guy off. What I don’t realize is this seemingly harmless little guy is actually a champion MMA fighter with a violent temper and reputation for assault.”
Now when you set up a scene like THAT. Your audience is going to lean in and magnify every detail. And getting your audience’s attention is the key to delivering your message.
So the next time you tell YOUR story, think about where YOU can add suspense.
Today I want to look at what speakers and storytellers can learn from filmmaker George Lucas of Star Wars fame.
Now Lucas is a millionaire hundreds of times over and this is largely due to his success with the Star Wars Franchise.
Now the stories within the Star Wars franchise aren’t all that great. But today I want to talk about the one thing that made the franchise extremely successful and something we can learn when we tell our own stories.
So what made Star Wars a hit. It started in the middle.
Now before I go on, let’s look at a basic story arc.
The challenge is, sometimes if you have a long or complicated story, the setup can be a little long and boring, so that’s why many storytellers will start in the middle where the action is, and eventually go back in time either all at once or little by little and clue you in as to what set up all this action.
So here’s what Lucas did, He started with Episode IV. Which seems crazy. Who wants to come into a movie not having seen the first third? Well it turns everyone did. As a result, we started with a space battle and not two hours of talk about trade embargos. pod races or microscopic parasites that control the universe.
By starting in the middle where the real action was he grabbed people’s attention. And luckily he kept it for the second move that’s often regarded as the best one of the series. The Empire Strikes Back. This is the MIDDLE episode of the MIDDLE series.
When it comes to longer stories middle’s are where the action is, middle’s grab people. If you’re telling a longer story don’t forget to savour that middle, and where you can START WITH IT.
Stories can help you sell your idea more effectively because they engage your listener’s emotions and activate the sensory centers of the brain.
Why are stories a great way to sell products, services or even ideas? Well partially it’s because of storytelling’s impact on the brain.
Storytelling is extremely old. In fact it even predates language itself. Yes, before we could even speak – we were telling stories.
We actually understand and remember stories much better than any other form of communication. That’s why we need to use stories if we want to influence others.
Stories are better than PowerPoint
Powerpoint won’t actually kill your audience, but relying on it too much can kill your chances. To keep people’s attention you need to engage more parts of their brain.
Let’s imagine you’re doing a sales presentation and you’re using facts and graphs and charts. You’ve engaged the logic centers of their brain, and while it’s good you’re engaging something, it’s often not enough to get their attention.
How to gain real attention during your presentation
Now instead, let’s imagine you’re telling them a story. A story about a real live human being with thoughts, and dreams, and emotions.
Maybe during the course of the story you talk about how things looked, or sounded, or even smelled! Well now you’ve hit the jackpot. The entire brain is lit up. Why? Because when we hear a great story, our brains experience it as if it were real life. It’s really a virtual reality – meaning all those brain centers for sight, sound, touch and smell suddenly get activated.
The more parts of the brain you activate, the more people will pay attention – and the more chance YOU have to make your sale.
But there’s one more thing you need to know. Remember I talked about human beings and emotions being important to your story? They are. People relate to the struggles of others, and buying ANYTHING, even if it’s an idea, is very much an emotional decision. That’s why stories should act as the emotional component of your sales presentation.
So to sum up, by using stories to activate people’s senses, you get their attention. Then, you stimulate their emotions, as well as their logical minds, so that they will take action.
There’s no better way to learn than stories. Why not book Jason to engage your audience with stories that are entertaining, powerful and insightful learning tools? Check out Jason’s programs to find out how your audience can become better at influence, sales, leadership or general communication.
Whether you’re speaking to sell, telling a client story, or doing a keynote presentation – the key to making a good story great is in the details.
Here’s why. Good stories are a form of virtual reality. They allow your audience to step into the main character and feel what she feels. Anyone who has watched a great movie or TV show, or read a great book knows how captivating being immersed in a story can be.
That’s why being able to set a scene is really important, especially when your story involves a specific time and place. One of the key principles of storytelling is you want to show, not tell. And details help you to do that.
Here’s an example of what I mean. Let’s say you were telling a dramatic true-life story about your relationship with your parents. Many people would write something like: When my dad yelled at me like that I felt sad.
This is a classic example of telling. Instead, let’s look at how you could show that scene instead.
I turned to leave and my dad screamed, “You’ll always be a loser!” By the time I reached my car, tears were running down my face.
Can you see how showing the scene has much more impact?
Be selective and don’t overdo it.
Now you don’t have to write a novel here. One of the things I learned when I was screen writing is that you don’t need a lot of words to set a scene.
If you do your job right, you can immediately set the time, place, tone, and feeling in just a few sentences. Here’s an example from a story that I share when I do one of my inspirational keynotes on living with chronic illness.
“It’s the evening of Christmas 1986. Most people are with their families and enjoying their Turkey dinner with cranberry sauce, and maybe even a bit of pumpkin pie. But for one young man the experience is quite different. He’s sick and alone in a small hospital room. And he’s scared because he’s not sure what’s wrong with him – and neither do the doctors. They don’t realize yet that he has a perforated intestine and that his body is a time bomb just waiting to go off.”
Now that’s only 30 seconds long, but I’ve given you the important information and set the scene. You’ll also notice that I use the present tense, (is instead of was). This makes the story feel both more real and more urgent.
Starting a story off this way is even more important if it’s at the beginning of your talk. Remember, you need to grab people’s attention right away or you may lose them.
Typically, we tend to tell stories in chronological order. “First this happened, then this happened and then this other thing happened.”
What great storytellers often do is break that time barrier.
They’ll start with the most exciting or emotionally engaging scene they can. Then after they play that out, they flash back in time to the beginning of the story and fill the listener in on what led up to that point.
Starting in the middle of the story has a couple of advantages
If you start with the most dramatic part of your story, you can often grab your audience and really get them emotionally invested in the characters right off the bat. The second advantage is that you’re giving the audience a bit of variety. If you’re doing a long talk, or if you’re one of a number of speakers that day, people are probably going to hear more than one story from the stage. So if you can change up how you tell the story it keeps you from sounding just like everyone else.
Starting a story from the middle and doing the time travel routine is like adding a hot spice to a meal – use it sparingly. If you start telling all of your stories this way the novelty will wear off quickly and your talk will be harder for the audience to follow.
If you recounted a time where you woke up and everything was lovely, every person got along, and no problems presented themselves, it wouldn’t really be much of a story.
Of course the story doesn’t have to be negative to be effective. For instance, you could tell a story about winning the lottery, but you’d still need to have some tension to make it work – even if that tension is internal. Let’s look at this example:
“As I read the winning number in the newspaper I realized I’d won the 2 million dollars that would pay for my mother’s open heart surgery. But the joy in my heart was tempered by a lingering thought. My divorce papers hadn’t been finalized. Was there any way I could keep my abusive husband from finding out about the win?”
That’s a good news story, but there’s a heck of a lot of tension set up there. There is a huge obstacle that still needs to be resolved. If you heard a speaker start that story, wouldn’t you want to hear the end?
WHAT IS TENSION IN A STORY AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
The storyteller who understood tension the best was filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock. He explained that tension is not a bomb exploding on a bus. Tension is the audience knowing the bomb is on the bus and not knowing exactly what will happen.
When you create a lot of tension in your story, your audience yearns for a release. Much like sex, the more you can prolong and build that tension, the greater and more satisfying the release will likely be.
Some speakers use tension as a way to keep the audience’s attention throughout their presentation. They begin their talk by setting up a story with a lot of tension and stop before the climax . This is called a cliffhanger. The speaker then leaves the story unresolved while they talk about something else. They will often refer back to the tense story throughout the talk with a promise to finish it. Then, at the end of the talk, they provide the climax which – if done well – leaves the audience satisfied and stimulated.
WHY YOUR STORY NEEDS A SATISFYING FINISH
Here’s the thing you need to keep in mind when building stories with a high amount of tension: You need the ending to be satisfying.
The story’s ending has to be dramatic or novel enough to have made the tension worthwhile It also means you aren’t holding back a key piece of information that factors into the resolution of the story.
If, in the lottery story, the heroine loses the two million dollars to her abusive husband, only to be given two million dollars from a rich aunt the audience never knew she had – you can be sure your listeners will feel cheated. They’ll also feel cheated if the mother ends up not needing the operation at all.
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?
One last thing to keep in mind… If the purpose of your talk is something more than simply entertainment – if you’re looking to inspire, or make a point, or connect to a theme – then that story has to serve a purpose. There has to be an obvious point to the story that connects it directly with the content in your talk. If you can’t do that, maybe you should leave that story for your next novel or screenplay.