THE BLOG
10/31/2013 12:21 pm ET Updated Dec 31, 2013

Five Key Ingredients of a 'Sticky' Story

"Anyone who has a new idea and wants to change the world will do better by telling stories than by any amount of logical exhortation." - Stephen Denning, 'The Leader's Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Art and Discipline of Business Narrative'

What makes great stories so powerful is their "stickiness," their ability to catch our attention and engage our hearts and minds. The best stories stand out in the constant stream of new media that surrounds us. They spread good ideas like wildfire and inspire us to take action. And that's precisely what makes storytelling such a powerful tool for social innovators.

Storytelling is about making sense of the wild world around us, connecting with people and inspiring empathy. Telling an authentic story can make your ideas accessible and acceptable to others and invite them to become part of your evolving journey to effect positive social change. Below are five key ingredients of a "sticky" story:

1. Know your core message.

First and foremost, you need to be clear about why you are telling your story.Do you want to raise awareness, fundraise, advocate ... ? What is your main message? Try telling your story in six words or less. It will help you get to its core and be invaluable for promoting your idea. Look at Rippling Impact Nigeria for a good example of this.

2. Know your target audience.

Who are you trying to reach? You can tell the same story in an infinite number of ways. Make sure your story addresses your target audience and clearly states "what's in it for them." Capture your audience's attention quickly. Surprise them. Teach them something. Speak to their interests and worldview. Enable your audience to find themselves inside the story and make it their own. See how MyBnk-What We Do by MyBnk does this effectively.

3. Be authentic. Be vulnerable.

Establish an emotional connection with your audience -- inspire empathy. Being vulnerable, authentic and truthful makes you more relatable and enables you to gain their trust. This point cannot be overemphasized. You need to be authentically yourself in telling your story. Also ask yourself through which voice(s) you want to tell your story and which perspectives to include. This could be staff members, beneficiaries, partners, funders -- anyone who could help you tell your story best. If you're writing, write the way you talk. In addition, think about how you want your audience to feel during different parts of your story and change the tone accordingly. We Are Kids Company by Kids Company serves as a good example of this.

4. Make it concrete.

Make your story concrete, visual and jargon-free. Paint the scene. Use sensory information and human actions. Engage the five senses -- sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell. Use simple language. Be pithy, but know when and where to add color. Check out Why Glasses? by Vision Spring, which does this very well. For example, Vision Spring first engages the audience's sight to help them realize the importance of eyeglasses. It helps the audience "see" the potential impact of its work.

5. Make one clear ask.

Lastly, this is your opportunity to make a concrete ask to your audience. Think about how to invite your audience to become part of the evolving story. Show them how they can become the champions of your cause. Check out Grow HQ by GIY, who does this well.

"Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion." - Barry Lopez

A single story has the power to change the world. It's time to tell yours.

To learn more about effective storytelling and explore stories, check out Ashoka Changemaker's A Changemaker's Guide to Storytelling and Change Stories. Follow #changestories on Twitter and share your change story.

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