At their core, all stories are a series of facts. What makes stories more than just facts is when they are told with emotions and details. But how do you decide which facts to include in your story?
When it comes to communicating with donors, there are endless amounts of facts you could share with them. The same is true for a story. Typically, you will have a word count or time limit that restricts just how many facts you can share. But even when you don’t have a restriction on your story length, you don’t want it to go on forever. Instead, you need to pick the best facts to form the backbone of your story.
Choosing the Best Facts
Picking which facts to share in your story is not a matter of rigging the story or manipulating it to be something other than the truth. This process is simply a way to decided how to prune back the information you share to avoid information overload. I know that when I interview people for stories, they will usually share a lot of information with me. Not all of it will be relevant to the main story that I want to tell, so I go through a process to pull out the best pieces of information.
The best time to go through this process is after you have completed your research and any interviews. Once those pieces are done, find a time to sit down and go through all of your information.
The first thing you’ll want to do is get clarity on the message and purpose of the story. What do you want to communicate to your audience through this story?
When you know the answer to this question, you can use it as a filter to go through all of the information you have. Which pieces of information are most relevant to the story you want to tell? Go through your notes and star everything that you want to use in the final story. These will be facts that you use to construct a story.
Arrange for Impact
Once you’ve gone through a process of picking the best fact to form the backbone of your story, you now have the task of arranging them into a story. In The Storytelling Non-Profit Master Class, I teach a 5-part story structure that includes:
- Call to Action
The idea of arrangement is an idea that dates back to early Greek rhetoric and I won’t bore you with too many historical facts, but the gist was that how facts are arranged influences how persausive something is.
Let’s think about this for a minute. Let’s say I started a story by saying something like, “In 1989 xyz organization was founded and they began working towards their mission of abc. Kate Smith saw x problem in the community and her desire to solve it led her to found xyz organization.” That’s not that interesting to because it doesn’t form an immediate connection with the audience. Someone reading this would not see the immediate relevancy to their own life.
But what if that same story started like this, “Kate was always bothered by x in her community. Seeing this wide-spread problem, she couldn’t help but believe that there had to be a solution. But with no avail, she couldn’t find one. So Kate create a solution for x. That’s how xyz organization was born in 1989 and today continue to carry out Kate’s vision for our community.”
In both of these (fictitious) examples above you’ll see that essentially the same information is communicated, but in a different arrangement and that arrangement makes all the difference.
The lesson here: arrange your facts wisely.
Lead with human interest and build a connection with your audience quickly.
If you are telling a story in limited space, working with few facts does not necessarily mean that you won’t be able to tell a great story. By picking your strongest facts and arranging them for maximum impact, you’ll be able to tell a great story.
Jonathan Bray says
Thanks Vanessa… appreciate this distinction in storytelling of how to arrange your facts wisely. It’s of paramount importance. As a reader, it’s always a little easier to connect to a story of a person… a hero / heroine…. an individual. All great stories start with a character that the audience can identify with.
I think we easily side with our organization and say “we do this, this is important to us”… When individual stories are what we crave. I want to hear why ‘you’ got involved in your nonprofit’s mission… from ‘you’ who donate your time, treasure, talent… and why!
Do you think it’s because we are just hardwired to connect to individuals? Or are we less able to connect to groups? Maybe a little of both? Thanks for the great content!