We’ve all heard about the “elevator speech,” shorthand for that pithy, memorable telling of your organization’s unique value proposition to a stranger during the brief time it takes to get from one floor to another.
While honing that ability is worthwhile, there are many times you need to go beyond the elevator speech. In other words, under certain circumstances, it may be important to “take the stairs.” This will require more time and effort, sure, but executing a heartfelt, authentic story that resonates with your target audience can be well worth it; whether it’s enlisting greater support for your cause or winning over a crucial client who can help your business expand.
As we see it, there are five key components—stair-steps if you will—that are essential to effective storytelling.
Your challenges and goals will vary, and evolve over time, but the components remain the same as you implement these steps:
Step 1: Identify your central premise
What is at the core of what you do, and why do you do it?
Earlier this year, for example, we led a story-telling workshop for the board of Mercy Housing Lakefront. The largest non-profit provider of affordable housing and supportive services in the Midwest, MHL’s central premise is that the creation of vibrant communities depends upon every person having access to a stable, affordable home.
Step 2: Focus on a relatable protagonist (hero) who is on a quest
The protagonist can change, based on the story you want to convey.
In the case of Mercy Housing Lakefront board members, they can speak to their own motivation for supporting the organization—a family member who battled homelessness or addiction, a family upbringing where serving those in need was embedded in their system, or perhaps simply a desire to be a part of a solution rather than staying on the sidelines.
Or, the protagonist can be the individuals and families that Mercy Housing Lakefront is trying to reach. For example: the single mother who, after spending a large portion of her income on rent, does not have sufficient money to invest in her children’s education, to purchase enough healthy food, or to obtain adequate healthcare.
Step 3: An antagonist or problem that stands in the way of the hero
Using the MHL story as a model, the problem may be that there are not enough funds for the organization to attain its goals for helping families. On the “micro” level, for those individuals that Mercy Housing Lakefront wants to serve, the problem may be a boss who won’t give the family’s major (or only) bread-winner a long-overdue raise, or a landlord who aggressively increases the rent while ignoring needed repairs.
In Illinois, unfortunately, another antagonist has been a dysfunctional state government that operated for more than two years without a budget amid bipartisan rancor. That problem has adversely affected numerous social-service agencies entrusted to serve the same populations reached by Mercy Housing Lakefront.
Step 4: An ending that demonstrates resolution or hope for future progress and the ability of the listener to influence the outcome
For Mercy Housing Lakefront, there is no shortage of success stories of residents whose lives have been dramatically improved by moving into one of the organization’s many properties.
A common theme: no longer devoting large portions of their income to rent, MHL residents can address longstanding needs like healthcare, education and job training. When that community-building story is duplicated many times over, community revitalization occurs as retailers are attracted to the area and other opportunities arise. A positive economic cycle has been set in motion, and it stems in part to the listener having invested in MHL and its mission.
Step 5: An understanding of why the story should matter to both the teller and the listener
This is where a relatable and authentic story can transcend the traditional scripted “elevator speech” to connect to people’s experiences everywhere. On the topic of affordable housing, if you were seeking to inspire most individuals, it would make sense to tap into the emotional satisfaction that comes from making an impact in people’s lives. Decisions and actions are based more on emotional reactions than rational thought. Emotion is power.
Too often, CEOs, communications departments or a limited set of other approved spokespersons are designated as an organization’s only “proper” mouthpieces. But the truth is that non-traditional storytellers can be powerful agents to inspire others—but only if they are empowered with the right tools to do so effectively. It won’t always be comfortable, but with practice and persistence, anyone can become a highly effective brand ambassador who make a very real difference in educating important constituents about why their organization matters, and in so doing play an important role in contributing to its long-term reputational health and success.
To learn more about how we can help your organization’s storytellers become more effective, send us a note here, or give us a call at (708) 434-5006.