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How to Tell Stories That Create Action

by Guest Blogger  |  
February 28, 2012

A guest post by Robert Wu of CauseVox and Annie Escobar of ListenIn Pictures.

From the beginning of humanity, stories have been about how we make sense of the world and explain our existence. A person without a story does not exist. Research even shows that our brains are wired for storytelling. When we are invested in a good story, our brains release oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin, which make us feel a sense of reward and connection.

We are all branders, and we are all storytellers.

What Does This Mean for You?

Your job is to understand how you can share your story in a way that motivates your audience to share it. How can you make your story part of your audience’s story? Your mission as a storyteller is to empower your audience to be storysharers.

Before you create a video, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this something our audience will be compelled to share?

  • Is this content a gift to our audience?

  • What will it say about my audience when they share it? Why would they be compelled to share this?

What Videos Work Best?

In writing "The Starter Guide to Nonprofit Video Storytelling," we described three types of videos that organizations, such as nonprofits, can use to inspire action:

1. Impact Stories
Tell the story of one person whose life has been affected by your organization’s work. Focus on the protagonist’s story, describe the struggle, reveal a moment of change, and end with a call to action.

2. Movement Portraits
Feature a collage of your fundraising and advocacy audiences describing why they care about your vision. Because movement portraits feature your supporters, they are highly shareable.

3. Vision Videos
A vision video is about why you do your work. Vision videos demonstrate your theory of change or core message in a visually arresting manner.

4. Campaign Video
Released at the launch of a fundraising or advocacy campaign, this video often features an impact story or movement portrait, a description of your campaign goal, and an inspiring call to action.

What Plot Structures Can I Use?

The plot is arguably the most important part of a story. In "Made to Stick," Chip and Dan Heath suggest that there are three dominant plots that inspire people to take action.

1. Challenge Plot
This plot is about a protagonist succeeding against an enemy. Obstacles seem insurmountable, but they inspire us by appealing to our appreciation for perseverance and courage.

2. Creativity Plot
This plot is about someone making a mental breakthrough or solving a problem in a unique way. Creativity plots make us want to try new approaches to solve problems.

3. Connection Plot
This plot is about people who develop a connection across a divide—racial, class, ethnic, religious, demographic, etc. These stories make us want to help others. They are about our relationships with others.

What’s Next?

Instead of telling your audience what you do daily, focus on inspiring your viewers to feel part of something that matters. Tell them a story that appeals not only to who they are but also to who they strive to be.

Reveal to them a new vision of how the world can be, and make their action critical in realizing that vision. When you make your audience see the world in a new way, you can make yourself part of their story and compel them to share your video.

To learn more, download "The Starter Guide to Nonprofit Video Storytelling," our free 53-page ebook that helps you learn how to create emotionally engaging video stories.

(Photo courtesy of Bigstock: Young Boy With Megaphone)

Annie Escobar co-founded ListenIn Pictures, a video production agency that works with non-profits to craft cinematic stories which connect people, build movements and catalyze change.

Rob Wu co-founded CauseVox, an online fundraising platform that empowers nonprofits to fundraise more effectively through storytelling.

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  • by Sally Erickson Wed Feb 29, 2012 via blog

    Thanks Rob & Annie for some concrete ideas for doing what so many experts expound on - tell stories. It's confusing to understand what a "story" means to many of us, including me. Is it than infamous, "what I had for breakfast," or is it the fact that I had a serious illness, or the hard time I had finding some product I sought? All are stories, I suppose, but not many of these is applicable to my potential customers or the posts I write to help them. I'm still learning the story-writing skill, and I appreciate both your questions to ask about our videos, and the lists of types of videos that work. Thanks a million! - Sally

  • by Ives Smeets Tue Mar 6, 2012 via blog

    Thanks for pointing out some interesting matters on this subject. I still have a lot to learn to get people committed in my blogarticles.

  • by Colin Kabs Thu Mar 15, 2012 via blog

    Awesome! Thank you Rob & Anna.

    This blog now explains to me as to why the you Tube Clip of KONY2012 has exceptionally well in going viral the way it did.

    I can see that plot structures 1 & 3 were used

    1. Challenge Plat
    3. Connection Plot

  • by Rob Wu Mon Apr 2, 2012 via blog

    Hey Sally,

    Thanks for the kind words. Hopefully you'll be able to create a huge impact with the stories you are telling,

    Rob Wu, CauseVox

  • by Rob Wu Mon Apr 2, 2012 via blog

    Hey Colin,

    You're right. They used a variety of plots that made it such an engaging video!

    Rob Wu, CauseVox

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