This is the eight post in a special 12-part monthly series written by Jennifer Miller, Creative Director at TrueSense Marketing — Powerful Nonprofit Stories: Finding, Framing, and Finishing.
How long does it take to tell a good story? Fifteen minutes? A half hour? 500 words? Five pages?
Stories don’t have to have a time limit, word count, or page length to be powerful. If your goal through storytelling is to move your audience, to connect, and to open the floodgates of emotion, consider the power of photography.
Here are some iconic examples from American history:
This one, “Lunch atop a Skyscraper” (credited to Charles C. Ebbets) was taken in 1932 during the construction of the RCA building in Manhattan. What’s the story? The construction workers are more than 800 feet above the ground, with no safety harnesses. This was taken during The Great Depression, when safety was viewed as less important than getting a job. The workers appear to be carefree, and of course that’s what surprises us about this photo — and makes us think. Those times in American history were anything but carefree. One snapshot tells a powerful story.
This one is Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother”. It’s also from the Depression era, and it became an iconic representation of that period. The woman in the photo is Florence Owens Thompson. She was 32, a mother of seven. The photographer’s notes included the fact that she had just sold the tires on her car to buy food. The sadness and worry on the mother’s face is palpable. Her children turn away from the camera, burying their faces in their hands. Is it due to embarrassment? Shame? Sadness? A sleeping baby with a dirty face and a questionable future is blissfully unaware of the hardships.
In 1957, Elizabeth Eckford was part of the Little Rock Nine — one of a group of the first African American students to attend Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. Johnny Jenkins’ photograph shows her resolutely marching ahead, her books tucked neatly into the crook of her arm, while an angry mob follows behind … daring her to continue.
These photos benefit from historical context and perspective. We know there’s a story, and we have a sense of what it is. The visuals bring it to life in a way that history books can’t, marrying knowledge with emotions. That’s a powerful story.
So the next time you think about telling a story, forget word counts. Forget page length. Don’t worry about verb choices. Let the pictures do the talking. Summon up the power of imagery and move your audience to action!
Next month in part nine of this series: Look at me! A spotlight on headlines.
Jennifer Miller has 21 years of experience in direct response. She’s worked for 10 years as a Creative Director at TrueSense Marketing (www.TrueSense.com, www.linkedin.com/company/truesense-marketing; @TrueSenseMktg), helping nonprofits raise more funds through donor-centered strategies. With a Master’s in journalism and hundreds of published articles, Jennifer is in her element when she’s getting a story firsthand. Her secret? She likes to talk to people, and her goal is to get them to talk back! (Note: This doesn’t always work when it comes to rescued pets at animal welfare organizations.)