In the last few weeks I’ve talked a lot about stories and storytelling as a tool for non-profit communications. But in doing so, I realized I may skipped over some of the basics. As I mentioned in STORYTELLING: demystified, I often encounter professionals who get so flustered and discouraged just hearing the term “storytelling.” It has been blown out of proportion a bit and now seems like this grandiose activity.
What is a story?
According to Dictionary.com, there are few definitions of a story.
> A narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse, designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the hearer or reader; tale.
> A fictitious tale, shorter and less elaborate than a novel.
> The plot or succession of incidents of a novel, poem, drama, etc.
> A narration of an incident or a series of events or an example of these that is or may be narrated, as an anecdote, joke, etc.
It’s fair to say that not all of these definitions are applicable to the kind of storytelling non-profits are doing (ie. we are likely not telling fictitious tales). But combining a couple of definitions, I think we will get a satisfactory working definition of a story.
A narration of an incident or a series of events or an example of these that is or may be narrated, and is designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the reader or hearer.
There you have it! At its very core that is what a story is.
What is storytelling?
Now, this is where the waters tend to get a bit muddied. The concept of storytelling is rarely explained in alignment with what a story is. Let’s explore a possible definition.
> Storytelling is the conveying of events in words, images and sounds; sometimes embellished.
How is that different from the definition of a story? It’s very simple actually. A story is a noun. Storytelling is a verb. Their grammatical roots clearly outline their differences. Let’s incorporate that difference into a working definition of storytelling.
Storytelling is the process by which you tell a story. This could be through different mediums such as words, images or sounds.
Why are stories and storytelling necessary and important tools?
Stories are a universal and innate way that we communicate with each other in our daily lives. When we tell a story, we are providing context that allows others to interpret our unique experiences. This allows them to relate to our unique experience and creates empathy between the two people.
As organizations, we are now appropriating this tactic, and with good reason.
Much of the work that non-profits are doing is not necessarily relatable to the average community member or supporter. To counter act this, we share the stories of the people we serve, the people who support us and the people who help us in the hopes that others will identify with some piece of that story and feel a connection to the organization (ie. creating empathy).
Think about this. Not using storytelling means that you are likely telling people a laundry list of services/programs your non-profit provides. Some of which they may or may not understand, and they definitely won’t be able to gather the impact of those services. But by telling a story, you can not only communicate the services/programs you provide, you can also articulate their impact. That is how someone truly understands what your non-profit is all about.
You can read more about the dramatic effects of good storytelling in a post from last week.
Stay tuned for Thursday’s post – I’ll be sharing an untold story and why not sharing it is hindering the community from rallying around the cause.