How to Tell Your Story
“Stories not only teach us how to act – they inspire us to act. Stories communicate our values through the language of the heart, our emotions. And it is what we feel – our hopes, our cares, our obligations – not simply what we know that can inspire us with the courage to act.” - Marshall Ganz
You may think that your story doesn’t matter, that people aren’t interested, that you shouldn’t be talking about yourself. But by telling our personal stories of challenges we have faced, the choices we have made, what we learned from the outcomes, and expressing our values as a lived experience, we can move and inspire others We recruit people to action by telling our stories. With a personal story, you are talking about why you chose a certain course of action, and your audience, by hearing your story, is invited to see themselves making the same decision. For example, a personal story about why you decided to volunteer for Warren, or why you’re All in for Warren can inspire someone else to do the same.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD STORY
A good story is drawn from the series of choice points that have structured the “plot” of your life – the challenges you faced, choices you made, and outcomes you experienced.
Stories are specific – they evoke a particular time, place, setting, mood, color, sound, texture, taste. The more you can communicate this specificity, the more power your story will have to engage others.
All good stories have a structure:
- Challenge: Why did you feel it was a challenge? What was so challenging about it? Why was it your challenge?
- Choice: Why did you make the choice you did? Where did you get the courage – or not? Where did you get the hope – or not? How did it feel?
- Outcome: How did the outcome feel? Why did it feel that way? What did it teach you? What do you want to teach us? How do you want us to feel?
A public story includes three elements:
- Story of Self: Communicate the values that have called you into this fight. Focus on challenges you’ve faced in your life, the choices you’ve made in response to those challenges, and the outcomes you’ve experienced as a result of your choices.
- Story of Us: Communicate the values shared by those taking action. Connect your values with the listener’s values, and the listener’s values with the values of Elizabeth and this fight.
- Story of Now: Communicate the urgency of the moment and offers a clear choice to take action. Root this in the values you have articulated and include an urgent ask to get involved.
EXAMPLES OF GOOD STORIES
As you read these, think through: What’s the challenge? What’s the choice? What’s the outcome? What are the details that make the story come alive?
“When I was 24, my mom was diagnosed with cancer, probably because we lived downriver from the Boone Chemical plant. I watched my mom spend her last months in severe pain and anxiety, struggling to afford her medicine, her bills piling up high on the kitchen table. After she passed away, I started an organization called Healthy Town Ohio, which fights to get lead out of our drinking water and stop fracking on our farmlands. But I want to do even more. I’m volunteering for Elizabeth Warren because she has a plan to bring health back to our community.”
“After I graduated from medical school, I had a choice. I could move to a big city like New York or Boston and make a whole lot of money. Or I could move back home and serve the community that I love. I moved back home. And I’ve never regretted it. My husband and I are so happy to be raising our boys here. But since I’ve moved back, I’ve seen firsthand what the drug crisis is doing to our community, and found myself responding more and more to suicide attempts and domestic violence. We need hope, and that means better jobs and higher wages. We need Medicare-for-All, so people aren’t crushed by medical debt. We need a real plan to tackle the drug crisis. We love our community, but we can do even better for ourselves. That’s why I’m supporting Elizabeth Warren for President.”
DEVELOP YOUR STORY
Now that you’ve seen some examples, develop your own story. Think about the most compelling choice point – perhaps it was the first time you felt part of a community in the face of a major challenge, or your choice to do something about injustice for the first time.