Workshop #2: Storytelling
Second in a series of workshops intended to keep stakeholders informed and engaged, this included TBCAC leadership, staff and board members; community members, children’s advocates (who we call our ‘Ambassadors’) and the Public Will Campaign Core Team. Results of this workshop appear in the Our Stories section of this website.
Nothing was ever designed that didn’t start with a story: a product, a society, a movement. And the best stories, the ones we tell over and over again, contain a basic structure that makes them “sticky” - they interrupt, surprise, convict and spur to action.
Storytelling is an art, for sure - but like any other artistic endeavor, it takes a process and good work to begin developing stories. The goal is to create common landmarks around an issue or idea that help to influence behavior.
We believe that stories will ultimately be the means by which we carry out our mission to make child sexual abuse rare and non-recurring in our lifetime.
Second in a series of workshop events designed for our campaign’s stakeholders, we invited over 20 hardy individuals to the TeamZero space in Traverse City, MI - literally, during a blizzard! The workshop was designed to help us, as a group, understand the basics of effective storytelling and provide two potential frameworks for storytelling design. The outcome: a number of compelling stories, some of which were delivered for feedback at the event, and others submitted as written.
In late 2017, the NorthSky Nonprofit Network asked PWC Core Team member Mark VanderKlipp to build a workshop about storytelling for their professional development series. This has evolved into a series of workshops and presentations throughout Northern Michigan; the January PWC workshop was the 12th that Mark has facilitated. He references a number of resources, including TED talks. Here's a quick peek into some of the workshop content.
First, it’s all about chemistry
Design thinking puts the audience at the center of any story. When writing to inspire, educate or motivate to act, think in terms of the brain chemistry you are working to elicit in your audience. In order to set the stage for the discussion, the TED Talk by David JP Phillips that was shared before the workshop included three stories:
One to elicit endorphins (laughter)
One for oxytocin, (empathy) and
One for dopamine (cliff-hanger).
These three chemicals comprise the “Angel's Cocktail” for the storyteller: if at certain points in your story you can elicit all three, so much the better! The workshop participants feel, in a visceral way, how those three chemicals move them to pay attention to the stories being told.
If, however, you are designing a story to enlist support for our campaign, you may be reaching out to people at the wrong time, when their brain chemistry has them experiencing the “Devil's Cocktail": adrenaline and cortisone. This means that they'll be unreceptive and maybe flat-out hostile to your message [You know how this works, right? When someone sends you junk mail or a text that you just can't pay attention to right now?].
Learn more about The Magical Science of Storytelling by David JP Phillips.
Second, the devil’s in the details
Counteracting the chemicals that lead to rejection is the key to designing a compelling narrative. The second part of the workshop centers on thinking through the essential elements of a story as you develop it.
Stories are inevitable. But they're not predictable. What follows are guidelines, not rules for storytelling:
Storytelling is joke telling. It's about knowing your punch line, your ending; knowing that everything you're saying, from the first line to the last, is leading to a singular goal.
Make your audience a promise that the story is leading somewhere and will be worth their time.
Make your audience care. There isn't anyone you can't learn to love after you've heard their story.
Drama is anticipation mingled with uncertainty. Your audience wants to “work for their meal,” they just don't want to know that they're working!
A well-organized absence of information draws us in. The elements you apply, and the order in which you apply them, is the key to a well-designed story.
In this TED talk, Pixar alumnus Andrew Stanton gives us The Clues to a Great Story. [Fair warning: the session starts out with a VERY bawdy joke!]
Finally, understand that you already have the tools you need to develop effective stories.
From birth, you've been telling stories, undoubtedly with varying levels of success. But effective storytelling is all about developing confidence and writing your stories down. Understand first that you don't BECOME a great storyteller: you ARE a great storyteller! If you take time to write them down, you'll notice you have your best stories at the ready. Index them: which stories make people laugh? Feel empathy? Which ones have that amazing cliff-hanger at the end?
The workshop was designed to help storytellers choose one story they want to tell as a representative of our Campaign, adopt an appropriate point of view, and focus on the details that make the story worthy of attention. Each of these requires a thoughtfully designed process, through which the workshop participants worked together.
Starting with the “Core Narrative,” the heart of each story and our shared storytelling efforts, we split tables up to answer the following questions:
Belief: What inspires all we do?
Problem: What problems do we face?
Solution: What do we do about it?
Vision: How will the world be better because we’re in it?
Each table reported the results of their discussion, resulting in a list of terminology and concepts that can be used as we generate more content for this Campaign.
Following a break to allow those ideas to simmer, each participant began working on the story they chose to prepare for team review. Then, the bests part of the day: we heard from several participants who delivered their stories in front of the group, after which team members added constructive feedback and ideas for effective story design. Simply having the opportunity to see and hear the passion and dedication for our Campaign was a gift in itself.
These stories have since been delivered in many community venues including The Christal Frost Show and Traverse City Central High School’s Coaches Training. More to come!