For generations our world was an oral world where history and knowledge was primarily passed on by word of mouth. How could generations remember the information that was passed on? Storytelling enabled them not only to remember the information but sometimes enabled them to pass on coded information that was illegal under current governments. Consider the twelve days of Christmas passing on Christian doctrine through what many believed to be a nonsense Christmas song. In the same way today storytelling is a great way to pass on information, gather support and launch a movement to change the world.
How to use storytelling to start your movement
Tell the truth
The slave trade in the British Empire was primarily brought to an end via stories told by former slaves about the harsh treatment not only of owners but of life on the slave ships and the suffering and mistreatment that was experienced by the slaves. Their stories and their scars were powerful forces that could not be denied. Abolitionist, William Wilberforce, took influential members of parliament to view a slave ship and see for themselves the deplorable conditions. As the story of their mistreatment was repeated and strengthened, the truth became difficult to deny and the slave trade was ultimately ended.
Tell the truth of your story
As the stories toward ending slavery progressed they would show chains that had once shackled slaves, pictures of a somber slave enduring his work and some even put their own blood in sugar that had been imported from slave owning plantations. As I work with the homeless I tell the stories of men and women trapped in a culture of poverty and addiction, then I introduce them to the now freed man or woman and let them tell the story of healing. Find the back story to your plight. What can you bring to ensure that people will find the truth of your story? It does not matter what cause that you want to support there is a before and after tale to tell.
If you are advocating for clean water you can bring bottles of contaminated water in to tell your story. Tell the story of a village that now has a pump that is passing out clean water. By telling the story it goes from nameless numbers to a specific person. When you support this cause you are making sure that Sarah has clean water and will grow into a healthy and vibrant young lady with an education. Tell everyone how Sarah’s life will be different once the pumps are running and how the whole village gets hope.
Make it personal
When you are passionate about a cause it can become difficult to remember that this might be the first time that they even knew that there was such an issue. Several years ago I worked for an organization that hid and helped an escaped slave from what is referred to today as Human Trafficking. When I would tell people what we had done they could not believe it. I was passionate to end human trafficking but this was the first that they knew that it was happening in their neighborhoods.
I was able to take them to a house that had been used for trafficking at one point. It looked like an ordinary house, just like in their neighborhoods. Telling the story as they looked at the house, you could see their minds searching houses that might look similar in their neighborhoods. Suddenly human trafficking was personal. Questions began to be asked, money and energy were expended toward the cause.
Making it personal will be different for every audience. If they have children let your story be told as a loving parent. If they are a doctor tell them details of disease and illness in those who are drinking dirty water. Know your audience and adjust your story to speak directly to their heart.
Use the senses
The more senses that you can touch in your storytelling the more memorable the story will be and the more they remember it the more likely that they will support your efforts. If you can bring in certain smells into the story, every time that they take in that smell they will remember your cause and be motivated to consider or take action. If you do this right your story will come up in their mind often. It is funny how the mind works. I am sure that you have experienced this before but you start considering buying a blue Toyota and suddenly you see blue Toyotas everywhere. This happened to me as I was researching names for a Capital Campaign to get money for a new shelter.
One of the names being considered was “Project Rescue”. When I did the research I discovered that the name was taken by an organization that helps rescue girls from slavery in the third world. I did not even know that slavery existed up to that point and began supporting their efforts. Over the course of the next several weeks I began to learn more and more without even trying about this cause. I heard stories of children and adults and learned of multiple agencies that have been working diligently to rescue people who are in slavery.
Your story can be the catalyst that sparks new awareness and excitement for folks. Touch on the senses and they will not be able to escape the desire to do something.
Tell the story in various mediums
Today we have multiple ways to tell the story. I once talked with a man who told the story of his ancestors sorrow along the Trail of Tears. He told the story in song in his native Creek tongue and it was moving. I did not need to understand the words to feel the emotion and the pain. Song is very powerful and memorable. We have video that can tell the story in a quick version and then you can get into more details with a live discussion. Everyone learns a little differently and when it comes to your cause it pays to touch hearts however you need to share it.
Let others tell your story: I was standing at the information booth talking with a couple that seemed interested in one of our programs that we use to serve those in poverty. As I was talking with them, a man came up that I knew had a relationship with a participant in the program. Almost as if on cue he talked about how much he admired this participant and how much he admired him. He added details that I was not aware of and the facts that I had already shared seemed to get much more strength.
Let other people tell your story
While you likely have great integrity everyone assumes that you are tooting your own horn and maybe exaggerating facts to promote your cause. However, when a stranger walks up and tells your story on your behalf the average person will take that as fact since the stranger seemingly has nothing to gain by sharing the story.
There are multiple and worthy causes out there and in a short blog there is no way to do complete justice to any of them. But go out and tell your story and make it big and loud. Our world needs people of passion to help focus us toward making our world better.