Story Matters (Now More Than Ever)

“Tom has a passion for hard work and the outdoors. Ever since high school, he searched for work where he could fulfill those two desires. The thing is, Tom has learning difficulties and sometimes struggles getting along with people. So finding a good fit for employment wasn’t easy. One day his mom spoke with a friend who recommended they check out ARISE employment services. Tom’s mother had no idea that ARISE offered employment assistance for someone like her son, so they applied for help. Within one week, ARISE connected Tom to a landscaping company. He then interviewed for a job, and was subsequently hired. That was 5 years ago. Today Tom lives independently, owns a truck and is a solid team member with co-workers who know him well and appreciate the work ethic he brings to the job each day. ARISE was instrumental in Tom’s employment success story, offering help so he can live the independent life he wants to live.”

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The story of Tom’s employment doesn’t give all the details of ARISE services. What it does is draw you into Tom’s dilemma and describes an opportunity for the reader to care about his need.

In less than 200 words, you meet a real person and  get to know about the central mission of ARISE by connecting thru a story. There’s a good chance that you will care about Tom, and other Tom’s, before you will care about ARISE.

That’s the power of story.

The story of JFields Marketing has been about us taking on new business opportunities. Creating and selling online video classes has stretched us, challenged us and given us a new focus for business growth. We likened it to ‘diving into a pool of uncharted waters.

We’ve told the story of that process rather than just adding a new category to our Products and Services tab on the website, hoping that people would relate to our venture, the feeling of fear in risk taking, and the joy in overcoming that fear. Connecting with us rather than just knowing about what we do.

When you share your story, you connect with readers who may just remember you, not for what you sell, but thru an experience based on shared values. Today, consumer attention is captured at the emotional level, not in facts, figures and dry program descriptions. Hundreds of millions of people are creating, sending and accessing information every minute of every day, so stories, coupled with great visual imagery, fill the mind gap of content with meaning. Stories create connections that lead to memorable experience.

Back to Tom’s story. I’ve been involved as a board member with ARISE for a while now. ARISE matters to me because I have a sister with disability, and spent the first years of my professional life working as a speech language pathologist with people struggling to communicate. This year, ARISE was chosen to participate in StoryGrowing 2.0, a 9-month local initiative to help non-profit organizations get better at telling their story. One of the main goals is to facilitate the funding process, giving staff the tools to clearly share the who and why of their organization so potential funders can connect, understand and make decisions about providing monetary support.

I learned about Tom in my volunteer role creating a video for last years’ ARISE fundraising event. Tom’s story has stayed with me. I shared it here as an example of how story makes a lasting connection. Storytelling is a universal language, describing purpose, time and history, and is more important than ever to get the attention and backing of potential funders and supporters. Good storytelling is not just important to the nonprofit world, it’s important for every type of business. So why aren’t more businesses and non profits creating and sharing their stories?

Story telling takes time and is harder than opening an Instagram account or filling in the blanks of a publication calendar. Story telling takes thoughtful investigation, planning and writing to weave a compelling narrative that leaves a lasting impression. Yet, stories are powerful, and a valuable resource for any business. What is your story?

Here are 5 tips for becoming a better storyteller:

1. Be authentic Being real and passionate in sharing your story draws people in, creating an instant emotional connection that is easier to remember than data or "jargony" words.

2. Keep it short Shorter is always better in our information overloaded world. For blogs, less than 1000 words; for video, under 3 minutes.

3. Be prepared The best way to connect and make a great impression is to edit, re-edit, and practice to perfection before going public with your story.

4. Set the stage   Set your story up with a place, time and characters, creating an authentic experience so your listeners have a better chance of connecting to their own experience.

5. Engage the senses Your story will come alive through your words if you engage the five senses. Adding a touch of taste, touch, sight, hearing, and smell in every story will draw people in through their experience.

Your story is a better way of connecting with your potential customers or funder, creating a memory that leads to a lasting impact. Don’t miss an opportunity to make that memorable connection. Finally, enjoy this wonderful video by Dove, an excellent example of weaving a story to make meaningful connection.