What makes a great story?

September 7, 2012

Deb Nelson and I have been teaching a Skillbuilder (workshop) for the Maine Association of Nonprofits entitled “Finding and telling our stories:  Bringing our mission and method to life”.  It’s about helping people identify stories about their organization that are compelling, illustrative, and can be told in just a few words.

As part of this workshop, we ask participants, “What makes a great story?”.  These are some of the answers that we hope to hear (and we usually do):

  • The story has a compelling narrative
  • It’s not obvious (e.g. you must keep listening)
  • It’s accurate, true, really happened
  • It can be told with authenticity and authority
  • The imagery is vivid.
  • It’s culturally relevant for the audience
  • It fulfills the right goals for its audience
  • It has a real beginning, middle, and end
  • It’s suitably short

These are the kinds of stories that we want to tell in describing the work of our organizations — whether in fundraising for a non-profit, marketing a commercial service, or offering an innovative product.  Compelling true short stories draw people in, create interest, and communicate most effectively.

About ‘Public Relations’

November 5, 2009

Public Relations is, literally, about relationships.  To often, it’s misunderstood, and criticized as being manipulative,  brash,  or lacking integrity.  It doesn’t have to be any of these things.  Relationships with the press are essential, if we are to see our stories in print.

I wrote this note — really, a summary of how public relations works —  years ago, in response to the following comment posted on a Quaker list serve.

PR smacks of the kind of approach that relies on manipulation of people in ways older Friends spoke of as “the world’s ways.” It is my observation that too many Friends have too easily embraced, all too casually, techniques that undercut and erode the distinctions that led earlier Friends to challenge public assumptions, rather than embrace them.

It doesn’t have to be so.

Public relations is, quite literally, having a relationship with the public.  While it certainly can be manipulative, it does not need to be that at all.

If I wanted more press coverage about our local meeting:

  • I’d arrange for two or three Friends to speak with the Religion reporter at the local paper (if there is one), for a “backgrounder”.
  • I’d appoint a few Friends who could be available for commentary about local issues that Friends care about (lotteries and gambling, State run liquor stores, etc.)
  • I’d send press releases when we are having public events.
  • I’d invite the Religion reporter to a Quaker wedding (if the couple felt comfortable with this).
  • With all of this, I’d trust that the Truth will shine, and be visible to an earnest reporter looking and listening carefully.

Now — is this manipulative?