storyteller-balloonsStorytelling Models, Methods and Tools

Storytelling, it seems, is the latest communications craze to hit the non-profit world. All of a sudden, words we haven’t heard since Lit 101 are being bandied about at board meetings, on philanthropy blogs, and in keynote addresses at national conferences. Talk of protagonists, narrative, and story arc has come out of the communications closet, and organizations of all sizes are encouraged to incorporate storytelling into the strategic planning process, staff development opportunities, and day-to-day operations.

To resource-strapped non-profits, weaving storytelling into the fabric of the organization may feel like a daunting task. As part of our quest to help do-gooders do better, we are diving deep into the content so you don’t have to. In a series of three blog posts, we are outlining a “Cliff’s Notes”-style round-up of storytelling models, methods, and tools:

1.  Storytelling Models: What makes a good story?
2.  Storytelling Methods: Ways to tell your story.
3.  Story Collection Tools: Collecting other people’s stories.

We’re starting today with a brief run-down of Storytelling Models, featuring descriptions of four different templates for telling good stories from top experts in the field.

1) Andy Goodman: Storytelling as Best Practice

A relentless advocate for the power of storytelling for more than a decade, Andy Goodman is founder of The Goodman Center and author of Storytelling as Best Practice. He says that stories are the most powerful tool we have, but that most non-profits don’t tell them effectively. He reminds us that stories are about people, not problems, and that good stories follow a common narrative: a protagonist encounters a conflict and overcomes barriers to reach a resolution. Watch Andy Goodman’s keynote address at the 2012 Conference for Community College Advancement

2) Thaler Pekar: Heart, Head & Hand

Thaler Pekar‘s Heart, Head & Hand framework for persuasive communication is a fresh approach to the traditional ethos, pathos, logos framework of Aristotle’s Rhetoric, the ancient Greek treatise on the art of persuasion. It is a three-step process that involves first touching your listeners’ hearts, then appealing to their heads, and finally asking them to lend a hand. She also recommends allowing listeners see themselves as heroes by telling stories about protagonists they can relate to. Watch Pekar discuss her storytelling work with clients in this 3 ½ minute video.

3) Dan Harmon: Story Structure 101

As a writer, a performer, and the co-creator of The Sarah Silverman Program, Dan Harmon is perhaps the most entertaining theorist in the storytelling field. His Story Structure series on Channel 101 starts with Story Structure 101: Super Basic Shit. Story Structure 103 simplifies his 8-step narrative into caveman language, indicated in all caps:

  1. When YOU

  2. have a NEED,

  3. you GO somewhere,

  4. SEARCH for it,

  5. FIND it,

  6. TAKE it,

  7. then RETURN

  8. and CHANGE things.

4) Marshall Ganz: Story of Self, Us, Now

No round-up of storytelling would be complete without mentioning Marshall Ganz, whose Self, Us, Now model of public narrative has become the go-to model for using personal stories to build movements. In fact, Ganz created the grassroots organizing model and training for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. He identifies public narrative as a leadership art and says a public story includes three elements:

  1. A story of self: why you were called to what you have been called to.
  2. A story of us: what your constituency, community, organization has been called to its shared purposes, goals, vision.
  3. A story of now: the challenge this community now faces, the choices it must make, and the hope to which “we” can aspire.

When sharing those stories, follow a plot structure “…with a beginning, movement toward a desired goal, an unexpected event, a crisis that engages our curiosity, choices made in response to the crisis, and an outcome.” He says, “Our ability to empathetically identify with a protagonist allows us to enter into the story, feel what s/he feels, see things through his or her eyes. And the moral, revealed through the resolution, brings understanding.”

We hope this storytelling model round-up brought you some understanding, and that you will stay tuned for the next installment in our Storytelling blog series, focusing on storytelling methods.

We’d love to know what storytelling models you’re using at your organization, and how they’re working for you. Please share your experience in the comments.

Photo courtesy of flickr user Nick Piggott

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ReneeRenee Alexander is a LightBox collaborator who enjoys telling stories that inspire and move people to action.