Want to check the health of your impact story? Ask these five questions
In our line of work, a story is only as good as the impact it creates. Before we add to the noise, it is important that we take the time to figure out if our impact story – i.e. the story we are telling about the work we do and why it is important – is actually serving you and making the world better.
The best and most impactful stories are often the ones that show a deep reverence for their audience, hold a strong command of the issue and are able to tap into some kind of universal truth. That doesn’t mean they have to be pretty, they don’t even have to be scripted. But they do have to be responsible, and they do have to be both considered and considerate.
If you want to know whether or not you’re ready to tell your organisation’s impact story – ask yourself these five questions first.
1. Does our story have a clear and compelling ‘why’ behind it?
Before you get too deep into ‘what’ you want to say in your impact story, you should take a step back and think about ‘why’ you are telling the story in the first place.
What is the future that we are trying to create through our work?
What are the values that underpin the work we do?
What is the big picture change we’re trying to create?
Ok, so that might be an additional three questions within a question, but it’s for good reason! Too many changemakers and purpose-driven organisations make the mistake of telling their stories from the outside in, getting caught up in the small details about ‘what’ they are doing and ‘how’ they are doing it.
But history shows that the most powerful leaders, organisations and movements gain traction by communicating from the inside out, and galvanising people behind a strong vision for the future. That vision is almost always embedded in your ‘why.’
If you and your team can’t figure out or pinpoint exactly why this story needs to be told, then the chances are that your audience will be left wondering why they should care. We know that everyone in our social enterprise and purpose-driven business community does work that really matters – so make sure your stories communicate that by starting with a clear definition of your ‘why’.
💡 TIP: If you’re having trouble pinpointing exactly why someone should care about your impact story, then you might find some inspiration in this YouTube clip by the so-called ‘father of why’, Simon Sinek.
2. Exactly what does the impact we’re trying to create look and feel like?
Storytelling is very rewarding, but it also involves a lot of time, energy and resources, which purpose-driven folks don’t always have to spare. For an impact story to ‘work’, it’s important that you know – in a tangible and concrete sense – exactly what the impact you’re trying to create looks, feels, tastes, smells and sounds like in real terms. Engage those senses!
Can you identify the actual change that you’ll be able to see in the world if your story (and your work) is successful? Perhaps it’s overturning an outdated law, growing a community, or ending a practice like offshore detention – no matter what the end is, you have to know what it looks like in order for the means (or the story) to get you there.
💡 TIP: Taking the time to work backwards from the change you’re trying to create and making it as tangible as possible, will help you make strategic decisions down the track and hone in on the creative aspects of your story, including who your target audience is, what your key messages should be, and what call to action to promote.
3. Could you draw a picture of your audience that’s better than a stick figure?
Calling all Picassos, Kahlos and Namatjiras! Only kidding. Being able to draw a detailed picture of your audience has very little to do with your artistic talents, and far more to do with how clear you are on exactly who they are.
Who are the actual feeling, thinking, breathing humans on the other end of your impact story?
What do they care about?
Where do they spend their time?
Why do you care about reaching them?
How do you want it to affect them?
What’s the best way to frame it for them?
Here we go again with our list of questions within the question, and again with good reason. The more targeted your story is towards a particular audience, the more likely it is that your story will resonate with that audience and get them to take action.
It can be helpful to break your audience down into ‘personas’ or realistic representations of who these audience groups are by broadly outlining demographic aspects such as age, location and gender. Then you can think through what kind of media they follow, who they look up to and what their interests might be to help you determine how they might best engage with your story/issue right now.
The best impact stories take audiences on a journey from apathetic → aware → engaged → championing, so have a think about what that might look like at each stage for your organisation.
💡 TIP: If you don’t know the answers to these questions, it might be time to do some research! Of course, there’s always Google – but if you really want to get into the mindset of your audience, you can always talk to them through an Instagram story, LinkedIn poll, email quiz, or survey!
4. How will your story get out into the world and in front of your audience?
An impact story without an audience is kind of like the tree that falls in the woods with no one to hear it – does it exist? Basically, it’s no good if you’re figuring out how to promote your story after it’s finished on the editing table. How your story will reach your audience needs to be planned well before you ever close the clapper board.
We see so many organisations who have clearly invested hard-earned money, time and resources into developing beautiful and powerful stories, without an iota of thought into how they’re actually going to get it out in the world. While the process of storytelling itself can be transformative, even if the finished product never sees the light of day, the chances are that if you’re reading this, you want your story to have an impact far beyond Phil in Marketing (no offence, Phil).
Once you have a strong idea of how it will go out into the world (based on what you now know about your audience of course), you will also now be able to answer a whole host of other questions about your impact story like:
What platforms should we use?
How can we best utilise it at an upcoming event or presentations?
What format should we make it?
How long should it be?
What should our call to action be?
💡 TIP: Consider the time-specific communication opportunities that might be available – PR is something that many people miss entirely, yet aren’t we all craving more good news stories? Think about a relevant event coming up where your story could be screened or distributed. Or is there a ‘World X Day’ or National Holiday that you could leverage to spread your story?
5. Is this my story to tell?
Perhaps the most important question of all, before you figure out any of the more creative elements of your story including what you’ll say, the people and places that will feature and what style and tone your story will have – ask yourself: is this actually my story to tell?
For too long, those with the resources, skills and platforms to share their stories and perspectives have been limited to a privileged minority. While new, affordable and accessible technologies allow more people to hold the means to tell stories in their hands – we still have a long way to go in creating true representation, inclusion and democracy in impact storytelling.
Who might you need to ask before you share a story?
Are you the right person or the best person to tell it?
Am I conscious of the inherent power of the story teller?
How can I use this story to create a more just and equitable world?
If you are taking the time to consider the incredible power that impact stories (particularly digital stories) have to influence perception, create connections and make world change happen; then we must consider whether or not this is in fact our story to tell.
Stories deserve to be owned and shared by those who are living them, rather than having stories told about them (remember: ‘nothing about us, without us’). There is no single story, best story, or most worthy one – but there are certainly the wrong ones, and it’s our duty as storytellers to know the difference.
💡TIP: If you are having a little trouble determining what impact story to tell or indeed who should tell it, we have developed a methodology in-house based on the popular Business Model Canvas. It provides a lens for telling stories that resonate with audiences and helps you build them into successful campaigns. Download your free online Story Canvas here.
We love helping people and communities shape their impact stories! If you would like some support to tell yours, please get in touch about a Story Consult or bring our Stories for Impact team to your workplace, and let’s tell a bold and beautiful new story together.