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The Art Of Storytelling For Advocacy Campaigns

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Published: Sep 24, 2018

Storytelling works because our brain is wired to remember narrations and is equipped to experience it as its being told. It’s the oldest and most powerful tool to affect change in society. And personal stories detailing the challenges one faces are easier to connect with and bring out our ability to empathize with the storyteller. In this way, stories can influence people and help bring in change.

The art of storytelling for advocacy helps you bring out the importance of the issues that matter to your organization and how it relates to people. Why is storytelling important? How to be a good storyteller? How to make issues come to life? This article tries to answer your questions and will help you with storytelling for advocacy campaigns.

The Classical Story Arc

A great story follows a set of principle that helps you share your point concisely with your audience. The story arc will help you structure your story and determine the peaks and plateaus that set the pace of the story.

  1. Introduce the protagonist of the story – Ideally, it should be a person and not the organization. People connect better to living beings than inanimate objects. So, tell the story from your point of view or as someone who has experienced the issue you are trying to bring to light. You need to answer the question “What makes the protagonist relevant and relatable to your audience?”
  2. Next, when and where the protagonist is at the beginning of the story.
  3. The inciting incident – Here, you need to tell the audience “What created the conflict in the life of the protagonist?” and “What spurred them into action?”
  4. Rising Action – Talk about the barriers and complications that arose from the conflict.
  5. Climax or Turning Point of the story – Highlight upon what made the protagonist take a certain decision and how they could bring about that change.
  6. Falling Action – Tell your audience how the turning point changed the protagonist’s life and how it made their life better.
  7. Lastly, the resolution – talk about what the protagonist gained or learned from their experience and what the audience can learn. This is where you bring out the importance of your issue and make people join your cause.

What Are The Elements Of An Effective Story?

Simple Language

First, forget the idea that a story has to be complex and detailed for it to be interesting. An effective story is one that is simple and easy to understand. Using simple language makes it easy to relate to the happenings of the story. So, while narrating, reduce the number of adjectives, and complicated nouns, and replace them with basic, heartfelt language.

Force Of Empathy

Empathy gives stories power in advocacy and campaign communications. It can put the listener in a different place and time and see the world through the perspective of the protagonist. This is what Mitt Romney did in the first presidential debate, where his goal was to establish empathy by creating narratives and telling stories to connect with citizens.

He created a sense of empathy in his speech when he spoke specifically of the struggles faced by unemployed women in Ohio, and how badly they needed help to ensure a functioning livelihood. By giving similar such examples throughout his speech, Romney managed to stir people’s emotions and something that they relate to.

As a storyteller, your goal is to make the audience become part of the world of your issues and see the world through your eyes. Ultimately your goal is to get people to see your worldview.

To elicit an empathic response from your audience you must:

  • Understand what matters to them
  • Show them how you can solve their pain point or issue

This way you can help connect characters (and issues) to the audience.

Back Your Stories With Data

Telling a story gets your cause the attention it needs, and the numbers you provide back up what you’re saying. One without the other fails to motivate people to act. This is because people know that anyone can produce a good story to pull their heartstrings without providing relevant data.

Let’s say your cause is to reduce school dropout rates. And Mr. Jones has already put his children through college so this issue does not concern him.

Now if you present plain statics to him –“Do you know 7,000 school going kids drop out every day?”

Mr. Jones would say, “I don’t care”

Instead, say: “The families of these kids lack the most basic amenities and sometimes they have no work or earning opportunities. Most of them remain unemployed for much of the year and face several hardships. Yet, they hope that their kids will continue to grow to reach their full potential. But with 7,000 kids dropping out of school each day, their hope and dreams seem to be unattainable.”
And then make your ask. This way, Mr. Jones will empathize with these kids and will support your cause.

Statics alone will not help your cause. You need to paint a word picture, back it up with data which will make people realize that this issue matter to them and will affect them, persuading them to respond by taking certain steps.

Include A Call-To-Action

An essential tenet of creating stories is to be sure that each story has a purpose, i.e., to elicit a response or action from the audience. Without which your audience although inspired may not know what to do with all that motivation. So, give a clear directive with a call-to-action.

This way your audience knows what you expect of them, i.e., to donate, volunteer, advocate, or fundraise on your behalf.

You can say something like:
“We hope you’ll partner with us to help others, just like <name of protagonst>, grow and reach their full potential.” GIVE NOW

Remember, the golden rule of storytelling for advocacy is to never let your readers or listeners hanging.

Tailor The Story According To Your Audience

It’s a no-brainer that a well-told, authentic story will resonate well with people of any age, culture, or belief. It’s just how you tell or pitch the story that depends on the audience.

So, before you narrate, ask yourself, “Who is my audience? What do they care about? How am I going to put that in the forefront?”

Once you’ve understood your audience tell the story from a different perspective, i.e., customize it for the audience based on their age, culture, and beliefs. Use a different protagonist in your story, highlight certain aspects of the story, and certain values.

Think of your story as jewelry. You cannot sell the same design to everybody. So, to sell it you need pound it into different shapes, sizes, and designs as per the preference of the customer. Likewise, if you’re telling the story on the web, do it in the form of a video or an audio. If you’re narrating it in an annual report, use beautiful pictures, colors, and texts that works well with the reader. If you’re telling it orally, then you must modulate your voice and tone. Your story stays the same, just who and how you tell it is pliable.

As advocacy communicators, use stories to create empathy and to strengthen connections. Remember, simple language, data, CTA, and a tailored story is the secret sauce of storytelling. These storytelling techniques can enhance your advocacy group’s ability to rally support around a project or issue. So, use these tips when crafting your next story.

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