“I’m not the best person at putting words together. I can’t give you the melody. But I might inspire somebody.”
– Meek Mill
(This article is a companion piece to my post “The Role of Storytelling in Leading for Change.” Check it out for more tips on effective storytelling.)
You can inspire people to act by your own actions, by your art, by your numbers, or by your words. Even if you are not the world’s greatest orator, or even an experienced public speaker, your message can be dramatic. Your goals conflict with the status quo; and where there is conflict, there is drama.
Tie your message to a vision of a preferred future. Give an example of the way things are. Then describe the way they could be. Repeat this pattern with one or two more examples. Then talk about how the desired future is achievable, but only with the commitment of people in the room.
Give people real examples, preferably about people you know, or have met. Personal stories about your own experiences can have the greatest impact.
We are inspired by stories of successful collective action. We are reminded that our experiences are not isolated. We are reminded that people have each other’s backs.
We are also inspired by stories of people with empathy for others. Stories about courage inspire us, particularly those about people who have fought, or are fighting oppression.
Inspiring stories do not need to be polished, or well-rehearsed. If they are honest, passionate, and if they move you; they will move another person — or even a thousand other people.
(image: public domain)
You’re never going to kill storytelling, because it’s built into the human plan. We come with it.
— Margaret Atwood
Storytelling is important. People have always told stories. The art of storytelling predates written language. It still very much plays a significant role in how we understand the world in which we live. Storytelling is therefore, a very important aspect of bringing about change in the world.
Stories shine light on realities we might otherwise miss. They can also motivate people to act. Sometimes we see ourselves in stories. If our experiences are like those of a character, we may learn the same lesson that they have learned. We can come to the realization that our values and our concerns are shared more widely than we may have believed. Stories can articulate a vision of what we can achieve individually and collectively. They can be both inspirational, and aspirational.
Stories, however, aren’t just about seeing ourselves. Vicariously walking in someone else’s shoes is one of the most appealing aspects of stories. Stories help us feel empathy toward others. They allow us to experience the joy, or the sorrow that others have felt. Stories provoke and educate. They can provide cautionary tales that remind us of what happens when we fail to act in a caring and humane manner.
A Few Tips and Resources
You rarely have enough time to show someone that perfect documentary film. There isn’t time for metaphor-laden, complex narratives. Your opportunity to touch someone’s heart and mind with a story is more likely to occur in a period of under five minutes. Your story should feature relatable, authentic, characters with clear, demonstrated values.
This may sound obvious, but it is important for a story to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It should start with a compelling statement, and establish the humanity of the subject. The middle develops a clearly defined conflict that explores values, and chooses actions. The ending resolves the conflict in a way that illustrates a position or teaches a lesson. The story should end with a memorable line.
There are lots of people out there who know much more about storytelling than I do. Below are some good resources to help you craft stories that will touch people, and move them to act on behalf of creating the change that you’re working toward. Now go out and tell your story.