Essential Ingredients for Your Strategic Narrative
By Mary Aviles
“Every successful social movement in history has been driven at its core by a narrative that drove people to do amazing things…Narratives have an extraordinary power of pull.” - John Hagel
Building a movement is infinitely more complex than marketing a product or service. The terrain you’re mapping is intangible, invisible, multi-dimensionally interconnected. It’s experienced. It’s shared person to person. Movement building requires patience, consistency, a methodical approach. As such, in order to keep the momentum up for the long haul, it needs steady inspiration. Your strategic narrative and the evidentiary stories that reinforce it can provide that energy.
Stories, unlike facts, have the power to change minds and drive action.
Like movement building, every story begins with the formation of a question, “what if?” Stories should unfold to serve clear purpose. Ask yourself, what is the purpose of your narrative?
Stories are journeys that transport the audience from the beginning, through the middle, and on to the end. Interestingly, content analysis suggests that the vast majority of TED talks contain the hero’s journey. People like episodic stories, think Serial, S-Town, Dickens. Events can be episodes. So can advertisements, speaker series, and social media posts.
Powerful stories engage all the senses. Through our senses we fill in the details. For example, smell is closely associated with recall and can trigger nostalgia. As storytellers, we can provide small sensory nudges and then let the brain do the rest.
In fact, research conducted at UC Berkeley found that when we listen to stories, our brains release oxytocin, the hormone linked to empathy. We can be moved to put others before ourselves, to be more understanding of the needs of others, to be more sensitive to social cues, and be motivated to engage with others. The story can change the teller, too.
Facts inform, but emotion persuades.
Researchers at Stanford found that stories are 22 times more memorable than facts alone.
Trust precedes facts. Your audience can’t receive your messaging until it trusts you. One means of laying a foundation for trust is by offering evidence from diverse sources, including from those that will surprise the audience. An accomplished narrator seeks to develop and reflect a more nuanced understanding. As such, stories allow for the development of a relational versus transactional exchange. New information is more palatable when offered with a side of action. Rather than simply sharing the story, give the audience options to act. Narratives are inherently open ended. They encourage self determination. Give your audience a hand in the resolution; agency based on their choices and their actions. In this way, the most powerful narratives can surface out of collective action, propelling movements forward, infusing them with new life.
A strategic narrative can help inspire people to follow you on the journey to your next endeavor.
It can energize your movement by showing how far you’ve come together.