Tell Me a Story 2.0

We talk a lot about how important it is for nonprofits to be good storytellers. Yet, when you see how that translates online, many organizations are still functioning in the Olivetti era. Telling good stories today means reminding yourself of Marshall McLuhan’s prescient comment, “The medium is the message.” While great storytelling requires more than understanding what medium [aka space/channel] you are using, it should certainly be a concern at the top of your list when you plan your story telling strategy today.

With so many easy to use, free/low cost digital tools at your fingertips storytelling should be a highly visual event as well as one rich in thoughts and ideas. We know that a picture is worth a thousand words. In the digital storytelling age, a picture is worth a million impressions. Stories should have at the least, still images or use Flash animation or video clips to work in this new online environment. If you really want to engage your audience offer voice threads that allow story viewers an immediate way to add their own comments to your story. Sort of like a wiki experience – interactive, engaging and open.

While you will want to integrate your online story with offline, print or email versions of it, your online approach to storytelling must distance itself from the prose writing formula of setting the stage, shaping the rising and falling action and closing with the dénouement.

You need to start with a visual map or, as it is called in the advertising or film industries, a storyboard.You can apply your old school ideas to it but understand that the mainframe is the visual not the word structure.

Before you even create your storyboard, you should understand and internalize the timeless basic elements of good storytelling. Here are the main things to work on to become a master web 2.0 or even pre-web storyteller [This is a big topic so if you want more help or information, email me at hyman.gail [at] and I will be happy to give you a free tutorial.]

  1. Have a clear point of view – in other words, ask and be able to tell yourself what the point of the story is. You’d be surprised how many storytellers fail to grasp this important point.
  2. Ask the viewer to go with you on your story’s journey. Believe in your story line and tell it powerfully. People love Superman, don’t they?
  3. Open with strong imagery and create anticipation.
  4. Have a universal theme beneath the surface of the story – to make it true beyond the specific margins of the story itself.
  5. Use points of tension and relief to keep the audience interested and give them a chance to breathe. Raise questions about what might happen next but don’t bore people by telling them the question. Instead, show them that ray of light behind the cracked open door or the torn sleeve on the arm reaching your way and let them wonder what it all means.
  6. Include music. You know how a movie soundtrack can make you weep even if the dialogue is not perfect? Music is the second most powerful online storytelling element after imagery.
  7. Use words judiciously. Remember pictures and music can tell much of what you have to say – use words to enhance and move the action forward.
  8. Offer interactivity through open content and links.
  9. End your story with a strong closing impression and/or statement that leaves them clapping loudly as they click their keyboard to send your story onward into cyberspace to hundreds of willing new viewers.
  10. Leverage your story’s impact by strategically linking it between all media – print, email, blogs, web site, texting, social networks.

If you think this all beyond your capacity, take a look at these examples:

Gail Hyman is a marketing and communications professional, with deep experience in both the public and private sectors. She currently focuses her practice, Gail Hyman Consulting, on assisting Jewish nonprofit organizations increase their ranks of supporters and better leverage their communications in the Web 2.0 environment. Gail is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.