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Storytelling As Best Practice April 17, 2008

Posted by gwennis48 in Presentations and Seminars.
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How can stories strengthen your organization?

Andy Goodman: Storytelling as Best Practice
April 17, 2008
Sponsored by the Washington Grantmakers and Nonprofit Roundtable

Why is narrative so powerful?

What makes a good story?

How do you build a lasting storytelling culture?

Why is narrative so powerful?

Narrative is so powerful because:

  • History
  • Identity
  • Culture
  • How we remember

Stephen Jay Gould called humans “…the primates who tell stories…”

Telling stories is a civilized uniquely human experience that helps us grow up (the reason why Peter Pan didn’t grow up in Neverland is because he didn’t know any stories).

Storytelling is fundamental to maturation.

Telling stories allows us to form our identity. When you go home tonight, list the top ten stories that you like to tell about yourself. What do they say about you? (Are they the right ones?)

Tales of a New America by Robert B. Reich (1987) ISBN-13: 978-0394757063

In this book, Reich described the four stories (he calls them parables) that have formed American life for the past 400 years. Names change over time, but the stories remain the same.

1. Mob At the Gate (guard against outsiders)

2. Triumphant Individual (Horatio Alger story/American Idol story; also all the redemption stories)

3. Benevolent Community (we will uplift the poor, heal the sick; witness the anger felt during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina)

4. Rot at the Top (guard against corporate and political corruption)

Goodman says – look for the dominant theme in the news, and you’ll see that is where the money is going.

All four stories are present in the Jimmy Stewart movie It’s a Wonderful Life.

Stories help us remember

Given a list of words to remember / Soap / Shoe /

Told to simply remember pairs of words: group of 5-year-olds can remember one pair out of 21

Told to make a sentence out of each pair of words (i.e. there is soap in my shoe): 5-year-olds can remember 8 out of 21 pairs

Told to make a question out of each pair of words (who put the soap in my shoe?): 5-year-olds can remember 16 out of 21 pairs of words

Point is that asking a question helps us make a story. That’s why advertisers use questions in ads (“Wouldn’t you like to fly to Paris?”)

What makes a good story?

Essential components are:

  • A time tested structure
  • Telling details
  • Emotion
  • Truth
  • Meaning

Richard Eyre has a website called: http://www.valuesparenting.com/

He tells a story he calls “It’s going to be OK, Jennifer.” Very funny, about himself.

Protagonist (who is the story about?) Intro

Inciting incident & know the goal Act I

Barriers or obstacles to goal Act II

Resolution Act III

The story gets interesting when the protagonist has to get over the barriers or obstacles in the way. Barriers create tension.

Aristotle said that narrative demands reversal, a change in fortune.

How do you build a lasting storytelling culture?

Identify your organization’s “core stories.”

Make sure that everyone on the board and on the staff knows these stories by heart.

If you as an individual are the sum of your stories, and if a country can be summed up in four parables, shouldn’t your organization have its own story to tell?

To build a storytelling culture, these are the stories that you need:

  1. the “Nature of our Challenge” story
  2. the “How we Started” story
  3. the emblematic success stories
  4. stories about your people; performance stories
  5. the “Striving-to-Improve” story
  6. the “Where We Are Going” story (the future)

If you can fill these buckets, then you have accomplished the groundwork. Other suggestions are to collect stories of satisfaction from the public.

Questions & Answers:

What about story fatigue or story exhaustion? Tony Bennett was asked “Don’t you get tired of singing ‘I left my heart in San Francisco.’” He said yeah, but then when he begins to sing it, he remembers how many doors that song opened for him and then the song comes alive for him. Think about the doors that were opened when people hear your story.

What if your story is somewhat abstract, more of a background one? Goodman suggests that you start with the interesting stuff and then widen the focus to say that our organization was able to make this happen.

Suggested word length for a verbally told story – 750 words

Less than that if it goes on the web

More than that if it is going to appear in print elsewhere

Final Thoughts

The Sacred Bundle – Lakota Nation

Jane Goodall’s Sacred Bundle of Hope


Numbers numb

Jargon jars

But Stories get stored.

More information at:  http://www.agoodmanonline.com


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