“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.” Robert McKee

At a recent conference I attended, I heard numerous emotional stories from speakers, about overcoming their challenges and how they transformed their own lives and their paths, going forward.

So, it got me thinking about the art of storytelling and its positive impact. Stories of the challenges we have faced and overcome, or those that we still haven’t overcome, steer our path. Effective storytelling creates an emotional connection and clearly delivers a valuable message to your audience.

Storytelling describes a journey. A journey of discovery, development and learning. A story involves your audience in this journey and allows them to see through your mind’s eye. A story, well-told, offers empowerment and guides us to understand a message.

Now a popular business and marketing tool favoured by companies and individuals alike, storytelling is an advantageous way to engage and attract audiences.

Development  organisations navigate their own decisions on stories to tell – to enhance donor engagement and fundraising. However, using stories to raise funds is only one purpose for storytelling – others include awareness-raising, engagement, and calls to action beyond financial donation.

Whatever the purpose behind storytelling, it is important to do so with integrity to create the right, lasting impact and keep truth at the heart of your storytelling. Let’s look at some ‘do’s’ for telling stories in general, and for development organisations in particular.



7 Techniques to Effectively Tell Your Story


1) Capture your audience’s attention

Jump straight into your story. Capture the attention of your audience as soon as you begin. Grip them from the off, so they want to hear more. You can fill in any gaps once you get into it.

JD Schramm wrote a storytelling article for HBR, and says, We never get a second chance to make a good first impression. One needn’t memorize the story, but great leaders know the first and final words cold … and can deliver them without hesitation. Take advantage of the impact of a powerful opening and conclusion.’


2) Don’t get bogged down in too much detail

Don’t fall into the trap of over-telling your story. Giving too much information to your audience can cause confusion and your message can be lost.

If you have time beforehand, have a practice run or two. You can do this with a trusted colleague, friend or partner. Ask for constructive an positive feedback. You can use this to hone and tweak any areas that need work.


3) Keep good eye contact

What you’re saying is important – but so is having good eye contact. Your audience will feel connected with you through your body language. Allow your gaze to steadily move from one person to another. Don’t feel the need to rush. You want your audience to feel a part of your story, so connect with them and show that they’re important to you.


4) Less is more

Don’t ramble, or waste words. Keep it concise and purposeful. Make sure that what you’re saying fits your central message and is in alignment with your end goals. Edit your story before, during and after any practice run. Adapt it to suit your audience, to make it effective and relevant to them.


5) Pause for thought

Using pauses allows your audience time to process what you’re saying, and it also emphasises the point you’re making. Measured speech and use of momentary silence can heighten the story and adds flare. Don’t be afraid to add a pause. It can enhance your story and keeps the audience engaged.

‘Intentional silence draws emphasis to what was just said or what is about to come – and allows others to contribute their own interpretations.’ JD Schramm, HBR.


6) Know your audience

Understand who you’re speaking to. Think about where they’re coming from – their values, experience or purpose. Put yourself in their shoes (or mindset) and convey the message, accordingly. What’s your message?  How can you convey it to this particular audience? Does it fit in with your/their overall objectives?  Work this out, before you put together your story.


7) Always tell the truth


Foster a culture of truth. If you deceive, or lie, your audience will call you out on it, and it can damage your reputation and that of your company. Know the right moral stance, project it, and ensure your message is in alignment with this.  Truth at the heart of your storytelling adds to its authenticity and the power of its impact.


+3 Powerful ‘Do’s for Global Development Organisations Using Storytelling

Development communicators have a big mandate — to stay relevant, stop the scroll, go viral, test new strategies AND convey complex and sensitive stories. So, how do communicators do this without using clichés and stereotypical narratives, romanticising poverty, reducing all to victims and saviours – and offering overly simplistic antidotes to global challenges?

When it comes to success in #globaldev storytelling, there lots of dos and don’ts. Here are the three most important ‘Do’s’ from a recent conversation at Devex



1) Take the storytelling to the people

Organisationally, speaking of your work or experience often means telling stories on behalf of partners and/or beneficiaries. Their story belongs to them, so giving the space to tell their own stories engenders truth and authenticity. It provides a wonderful opportunity to meaningfully engage partners in solutions – from raising funds, to promoting awareness of an issue. Allowing the characters in your story to tell their own often results in multiple lens views– resulting in a more diverse and authentic story.

How can we facilitate our partners and beneficiaries to tell their stories? What resources and/or opportunities might they need to tell their stories?


2) Focus on common human experiences

Avoid the trap of overly emotive appeals intended to evoke pity. Allow common human experiences to surface, which people can relate with. It is important to relate emotionally to the story at hand – but if pity is the only emotion sought, you run the risk of reinforcing white saviour/poverty porn clichés and it casts the characters as victims.

How can our stories be told with dignity? How can we tell our stories so that they highlight local realities? How might these realities be relevant to a wider audience?


3) Use accessible (understandable) language

ECOSOC, ECRE, MEL, WASH, migration compact, sexual and reproductive health… Every sector has its own common language, jargon and acronyms. This matters when development organisations are trying to work with partners outside this sector, unfamiliar with words and concepts we take for granted. When stories are intended for a wider audience, the language needs to be accessible to the general public.

What language do we use for our audiences? How can non-development audiences receive and understand our messages easily?


Telling Your Best Story

Use storytelling positively, and we can more effectively and meaningfully communicate our message and enhance other peoples’ thinking, listening skills and understanding. It enhances experience and insight. Storytelling shapes our learning and affects our emotional connection with a particular idea.


What are your storytelling tips?  Do you use any, when you’re asked to do speeches and presentations? Or even when you’re writing for a given audience?


Piqued your interest? Left wanting more? These two Ted Talks give you detail on the magical science of storytelling by David JP Phillips and how storytelling sparks our neurotransmitters. And the 7 secrets of the greatest speakers in history by Richard Greene describes how conversations from the heart will make your speech great.


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