There’s no question that stories are an essential gateway to understanding complex issues. This was as true in Shakespeare’s and Cervante’s times as it is today.
And yet many communicators in the nonprofit sector forget about the power of story and instead bog down their audiences with data, jargon, statistics and facts that end up creating more barriers to comprehension than actual understanding.
Two recent public radio interviews demonstrate how to turn this dynamic on its head.
In the first example Amory Lovins, the founder of Rocky Mountain Institute in Aspen, Colo. explains to Ryan Warner of Colorado Public Radio how his organization helped retrofit the Empire State Building.
What Rocky Mountain Institute did was quite complex—the science, engineering, economics and climate science at the heart of their work is sophisticated stuff. And yet, by telling the story of retrofitting one of America’s most iconic landmarks, Lovins brings climate science to life in a way that is compelling, interesting and inspiring.
Listen: Amory Lovins (1:42)
Lovins demonstrates some important communication best practices:
- Use everyday language that even a 5th grader could understand. Just because you’re using simple language doesn’t mean you’re sharing simple ideas.
- Give context to data points. Lovins shares that their approach saved money and reduced environmental impacts. By providing story and details around these data points, he gives them deeper meaning.
In the second example, author Luis Alberto Urrea tell’s NPR’s Neal Conan a story to illustrate a larger point about immigration, health care, and the power of story.
Listen: Luis Alberto Urrea (3:39)
Urrea expertly lures us into his narrative and in so doing makes a larger point that story connects people across borders, across national boundaries, and across political affiliations because it allows us to acknowledge our shared humanity.
Here are a few things that he does well:
- Choose a protagonist. A story about a single individual is more compelling than the plight of millions.
- Share details. Urrea’s protagonist emerges in our imagination because we can really see him in our imaginations.
- Create a story arc. Great stories unfold step by step: one thing happens and then another and another. Each moment creates tension and curiosity, inviting the listener to ask “And then what happened?”
- Summarize your story. Every tale needs a “So what?” — an answer to the question of “Why are you telling me this in the first place?”
How has story worked for your organization? What examples of great stories can you share?