Note from Pam: Many of our fellows have found storytelling to be a powerful tool for talking about their work and why it’s important. Recently the Leopold Leadership Program started collecting resources to help researchers tell their stories in compelling ways. Welcome to “3 Days to better storytelling,” a 3-part blog series with tips and ideas for strengthening your storytelling skills starting today.
Day 1: Get inspired
It seems simple enough: if you want your ideas to stand out and be heard, go out and tell your story. Try googling “effectiveness of storytelling,” and you’ll find a wealth of examples from businesses, nonprofits, health organizations, schools, and other entities about how storytelling helped people absorb and act on new information for change.
Why are stories effective? What happens when you incorporate them into your work? Here are a few perspectives:
- Denise Withers is a filmmaker who also studies how stories work. She has two posts this month on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog about why stories engage their listeners and how to use them to solve social problems. She offers insights on harnessing listeners’ “narrative intelligence,” their innate ability to analyze, learn from, and remember information and experience as stories.
- If you’re an academic researcher trying to share your work beyond your field, you may have grappled with how to deal with complexity for audiences unfamiliar with what you do. John Calderazzo, an English professor at Colorado State, deals with this problem head on in his 13-minute talk about powerful stories from science, which he gave at this year’s American Geophysical Union Chapman conference.
- For another take on tackling complexity, see this 12-minute talk by Andy Goodman, an expert in public interest communications. He tells the story of how a nonprofit, Friends of the Children, transformed their drab PowerPoint presentation into narratives that garnered wide attention.
- You may also want to check out Leopold fellow Josh Schimel’s book Writing Science. As a scientist, teacher, and editor, Josh has seen that successful science writing begins with stories and shows how to use them well.
- Andy Revkin recently interviewed Randy Olson, the scientist turned filmmaker, about how to use stories to share complex scientific ideas without distorting truth.
- Finally, the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi describes the importance of knowing your biases about your subject and gives advice about dealing with them.
This is some of the best advice out there from the pros. But what if you don’t see yourself as a storyteller? In my next post, I’ll show you how you can start applying their ideas in your work.
Pam Sturner is the executive director of the Leopold Leadership Program.