Shaping and sharing your stories

The symposium is still several weeks away. But you don’t have to wait to start shaping and sharing your stories. You will find ideas and tools below to help you start thinking about three kinds of stories we tell within organizations: stories of origin, impact, and vision. Each template leads you through a process of thinking about how to find and organize your stories. Use the questions as inspiration, points of departure, and explore what your stories might be.

Personal reflection is a valuable way to find your stories. But there’s nothing like the process of sharing your stories with a trusted ear to help you discover, reframe, and uncover more potential in your story.

So share your stories with someone who is listening not for a perfect story, but for what fascinates their imagination and engages their emotions. We’ll talk more about how to build connection with your story during the symposium. Play with these approaches and have fun. Let them inform and influence how you shape your story.

Story structure

Stories unfold in predictable, repeatable patterns. A simple story follows a basic pattern as shown in the diagram.story structure cropped

A longer story might have several characters and their challenges, choices, and consequences nested within a complex narrative structure—each one following this simple pattern.

Set the scene by describing in a few words the world of your story. Use sensory descriptions. What does it look, feel, sound like? Who or what is your main character? How will you bring your character into the story?

Challenges are what make life—and our stories about life—compelling. We encounter internal challenges to our wants, needs, desires, ambitions, goals. And we come up against external challenges in people, places, and problems as our character tries to move toward what is desired.

Choices made by character(s) trying to surmount their internal and external challenges drive the narrative forward.

Consequences naturally flow from the choices your characters make. The results of their actions—intended or otherwise—bring closure and meaning to the story.

An origin story—find a moment

Organizations have their stories of origin—stories of who they are and how they change over time. Use the questions below to consider a story of origin for your organization. It may be a story about the founders, or maybe when your involvement  began.  The following questions will help you shape a compelling story.

Set the scene What was the world like? What was occurring in the world that created the conditions for the need of an organization like yours? Use sensory details so others can be there with you. What sights, sounds, smells are important to your story?

Choose one person A person can be followed easier than an organization. This is the main character of your story. What one thing stood out about him/her/you at first?

Choose a challenge, and focus in on a moment… Crucial moments reveal the challenges and choices that make a difference.  They provide a twist in the motion of your story. This might sound like “And then one day…” What challenges were faced? Did they feel like a challenge? What was so challenging about them? Whose challenge was it?  What choices were made? Why? Was courage involved (or not)? Was hope (or not)? Provide sensory details about this moment.

Show the consequences How is the world different? What lessons can be shared?  Has the organization helped you or others realize your values and goals? How did the outcome feel? Why did it feel that way? What lessons were learned? What do you want to teach us? How do you want us to feel?

(Adpated from Jay Golden’s Wakingstar blog)

Impact stories

Impact stories demonstrate the need in the community and how your organization is meeting the need. Use these stories to illustrate the accomplishments of your organization in quarterly reports, grant proposals, status update meetings—whenever you want people to understand and feel the impact your organization has on people, places, and problems. Reflect on the following questions to explore and shape your Impact story. What does an impact story sound like?

Set the scene  What is the world like?  Use sensory details. What does it look, feel, sound like?

Choose one  Who or what will be the main character? Who will be sympathetic to your audience? What do you want your audience to see, think, and feel about your character?

Choose a challenge…and zoom in…What is the external and/or internal challenge your main character needs to overcome? What does your organization do to help alleviate the problem? How does your main character cope with the problem/situation? How does your organization help solve the internal problem?

Show the consequences  Why is your organization the right organization to be tackling this cause? At the end of a story, it’s common to have a “call to action”. What is your call to action? What do you want us to think, feel, and do because of your story?

Vision stories

A Vision story captures a positive view of the future that could be because your organization exists. It expresses what’s possible within your organization, and by extension, the world. As part of a process of discovery, your task is to interview another person. Asking the questions below, you’ll draw out the interviewee’s story so that he or she re-lives not only the facts, but also the “music”, the feelings, the energy, the excitement, the color. As needed, ask questions to clarify and help the other person explore their answers. Take notes as useful to you during the interview. After the interview, use the Interview Summary Notes to capture highlights of your listening experience and discuss them together. This interview process typically takes about 15 minutes. Have fun. After you finish, swap roles and let the other person interview you.

  1. Describe a peak experience or “high point” within your organization, a time when you felt engaged, excited, and energized to be there. Some questions to keep the conversation going:
  • What was happening? What were you doing? What were others doing?
  • What made it a great experience?
  • What made it possible?
  • How did it affect you going forward?
  1. Without being modest, what is it that you most value about yourself, the nature of your involvement with your chosen field, and the effect you have on your customers, co-workers, and your organization?
  1. What first drew you to this organization? What keeps you committed?
  1. As you think about your organization, what is it that represents the essence, the character, or uniqueness – without which it would cease to have life or purpose?
  2. Imagine that you have been asleep for 10 years and wake to find it is 2026. Your organization has been recognized worldwide for its contributions. Some questions to explore:
  • What has the organization accomplished?
  • What does the organization look like?
  • How is it different from today?
  • What did you and others do back in 2016 to put your organization on the path to achieving this remarkable result?