The Blueprint for a Great Story
Storytelling has quickly become a vital leadership tool in the digital age, something that I have written extensively about in Digital Leadership. Social media and a variety of other technologies allow for the mash-up of text, hyperlinks, audio, images, and video to craft compelling narratives that showcase all that is great in education. The tools we now have available allow for the creation of supercharged stories that can be shared with a vast audience near and far. For these reasons, it is crucial for educators to become the storyteller-in-chief to not only share but, more importantly, to celebrate the work that is done in schools across the globe.

So, what makes a great story? There are many pieces of advice out there that one can peruse through a Google search. However, I believe the image below captures the essence of what not only makes a good story but one that also effectively conveys a powerful message that caters to your stakeholders or a specific group you are targeting.


Let’s take a look at each of these elements that together create a blueprint for a great story.

Audience

It is essential to know for whom you are writing. Depending on your position, this will vary, of course. I like this point from Crystaline Randazzo:
But the truth is you have to give people the kind of content they want in order to keep their attention. And in order to give them what they want, you need to get to know them better. Once you start giving your target audience content they want, they are more inclined to engage with your other content.
Knowing what your audience cares about or is interested in is key, but it is equally as important to listen and understand what they want to hear and how they want to engage in the story. The act of listening will allow you to create a message that has more meaning. Consider their goals and priorities, not just yours. Doing some research on who you are trying to reach and why will also go a long way to crafting an impactful story.

Subtlety 

How you tell a story will make or break it. No one likes bragging — even those who humblebrag stick out like a sore thumb. The key to a great story in education is to make sure the message resonates in a way that doesn’t turn the audience off. To avoid this, make sure you follow the golden rule, which is “show, not tell” from multiple perspectives. Subtleness creates the conditions for more two-way dialogue

Inspiration

It goes without saying that for a story to be remembered and have an impact, it should be inspirational. Tapping into emotions is part art and part science that dramatically impacts not only a connection to the message but also more of a willingness to share it. An article in Scientific American sums it up nicely:
Stories stimulating positive emotions are more widely shared than those eliciting negative feelings, and content that produces greater emotional arousal (making your heart race) is more likely to go viral. This means that content that makes readers or viewers feel a positive emotion like awe or wonder is more likely to take off online than content that makes people feel sad or angry.
Truth

It is easy in today’s digital world to vet anything, including the content, ideas, points, and strategies inherent in any story. Honesty is a virtue, and a lack thereof will discredit both the message and the person conveying it. In other cases, many stories in education just share a positive outcome or point. While this definitely caters to a particular audience, being truthful about the journey and the challenges that are overcome along the will only strengthen the narrative. Substance and results matter in education, and stories should convey as much. 

Promise

In BrandED, we discuss the importance of delivering on a promise to those we serve, most notably our learners. We define this as a compelling core connection to the value educators, school, or district guarantees to their community.  It’s about benefits, not features, that have a unique value and that work to develop pivotal connections with your target audience. So, what does this really mean? Below is an excellent synopsis from Emotive Brand that I have edited slightly:
A contemporary promise articulates an idea that goes beyond the rational benefits that worked in the past and extols a higher-order emotional reward. It’s not a slogan, logo, or headline. It is not, by definition, a public statement (though it can be as long as you and the work truly live up to it). Indeed, its uniqueness and differentiating power comes not from what it says, but how it transforms the way you or your school creates strong and meaningful connections with people.
What the above statement conveys is the blueprint of a great story and how the promise establishes and sustains relationships. The best way to integrate this is to dive into your vision and think about how you can combine mission, goals, personality, values, and results in a deliverable story for stakeholders. 

As you begin to embrace or improve in your role as storyteller-in-chief, I hope this blueprint helps. In the words of the America Press Institute:
A good story is about something the audience decides is interesting or important. A great story often does both by using storytelling to make important news, information, ideas, and events interesting. A good story, however, does more than inform or amplify. It adds value to the topic.
You build relationships by making good stories great. 

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