Stop Telling Boring Stories in 7 Easy Steps
There is nothing more dangerous than a boring story.
Don’t believe me?
Think about a time when you watched a bad movie, or tried to read a slow book. Maybe you fell asleep in the theatre. Perhaps that book sat and gathered dust on your bedside table, but try as you may, you just couldn’t make it past that first paragraph.
It has happened to all of us, and while it might not be such a big deal to fall asleep on the couch while trying to watch something tediously boring, it actually says something pretty huge about the storyteller: they didn’t do a very good job.
And if people who are paid to tell stories aren’t doing their job, they won’t have a job for long.
And if you happen to be in the nonprofit sector and don’t tell great stories, your audience will not be engaged. They will be apathetic. And apathy does nothing to change the world.
What makes a story boring?
Boring stories come in many shapes and sizes.
- They are jargon-filled, ego driven tirades that focus only on your organisation.
- They are long-winded snooze-fests filled with cold-fish, unemotional language.
- They are too detailed for the reader to keep up.
- They aren’t detailed enough, leaving the reader feel lost.
- They try to make too many points, confusing the reader to inaction.
- They aren’t actually stories at all, but weird lists filled with lists, bad graphs, and weird, unrelated imagery
The bottom line is that boring stories, whatever form they may take, leave your reader asking “so what?” And in the fundraising world, this is a very dangerous sentiment.
Seven Approaches to Better Stories
There are a lot of great approaches to storytelling, and so many fantastic examples from the field. Your greatest source of inspiration could be your peers and sector mentors. Read anything that Tom Ahern or Jen Love have written to see what mastery can look like. But the best storytellers draw creative inspiration from all kinds of sources. Here are seven that have influenced the way I write and approach storytelling.
Think like a comedian.
Comedians are always observing the world with fresh eyes. They aren’t afraid to ask “what if” and “why” of the things around them, and this lends itself to content that connects through empathy.
Think like Hayao Miyazaki.
If you’ve never heard of his work, check it out. He is one of the greatest storytellers of our time, focusing deeply on creating well-rounded, flawed, realistic characters who live in a world that is very grey – that is, no black and white slices of morality, but a world with many intricate emotional connections.
Think like Roxette.
Or whatever pop group you might like. It’s catchy because it’s repetitive and predictable, and at the same time unique and surprising.
Think like Dr. Seuss.
Simplicity, always. A story need not be “high literature” to be beloved, memorable, and life-changing.
Think like Lou Reed.
Be a mirror for your donors – frame your stories around their already set world view. Show donors themselves in the mirror, as well as a glimpse through a window of a future they can imagine.
Think like Oprah.
The stories aren’t about you – your organisation is a conduit to connect donors to deeds.
Think like Jack.
Or whoever your biggest storytelling influence was growing up. Recall the joy of sharing stories as a family, and consider the ways those storytellers (your grandfather, an uncle, an aunt) shared in a way that brought the audience closer.