Can I tell you a quick story…
In 2003, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Namibia, a small country in Southern Africa. I lived on the fringe of the Kalahari Desert. It was kind of like being on a beach with no ocean. Everything was sand.
I had never lived on sand before and it took some time to adapt.
For example, sand in Namibia is always hot. The sun shines over 300 days a year and the sand radiates that heat right back up at you. But I’d watch Namibians walk around barefoot like it was nothing.
Have you ever gone for a run on the beach? It’s a lot harder on sand.
Have you ever tried to kick a soccer ball around on the sand? You learn quickly that you have to keep the ball in the air when you pass to your teammate. Otherwise the ball stops dead in the sand while your opponent swoops down on it.
Namibian sand is gritty, a million small pebbles that have an uncanny ability to impact everything you do. It permeates everything.
Ok, it wasn’t a full story. It was only part of a story, but a very important part that I want to discuss today.
Always start with Context
When you read the story above did you picture the sand?
Did you put yourself on a beach and then take the ocean away?
Did you feel the heat of the sand on the soles of your feet?
Did you imagine running on a beach and how much harder that is to do?
Did you picture the soccer ball stop dead in the sand?
Even if just one of those things happened then the role of this part of the story did its job.
Providing context for your story is all about helping the reader put themselves into the shoes of your hero.
You want them right next to the hero, feeling what they feel; seeing what they see; going through the same struggles.
Once your readers do this, they have primed their own senses, they are immersing themselves in the story and they are in a much better position to develop empathy with your hero.
Remember, the primary goal of your storytelling is to get your readers to FEEL something.
Activating their imagination by giving them context they can relate to will help you achieve this.
What exactly is context?
Context is one of the 5 key ingredients of the Ultimate Nonprofit Storytelling structure.
The context is where you lay out the beginning of you nonprofit story.
This is what life is like for your hero before the “crisis” interrupts their life.
You want to explain where they are and what surrounds them and you want your readers to put themselves right there with them.
In the story above, I’m setting the context. I’m putting the reader right there with me in the sands of Namibia.
That way, when the crisis occurs the readers can feel the same jolt as the hero of the story.
How to create context
The key is to get your readers to put themselves into the context so it is important that you describe the context using as many of the 5 senses as you can.
In my example context above I talked about feeling the heat of the sand and seeing the ball come to a stop.
You also want to help connect the context to something people already understand well. Especially if the context is a place or a circumstance they may never have experienced.
I know that most people have never been to Namibia or lived on sand so I described it as a “beach without an ocean.”
Most people have been to a beach. This helped them take what they do know and apply it to what I was experiencing.
I am engaging their brain, helping them visualize where I am and what I feel.
Do you give context its due?
If you want to improve the impact of some of your nonprofit stories, go back and look at how well you set up the context.
Are you engaging multiple senses in describing the context?
Do you spend enough time describing what the hero of your story sees, feels, and thinks?
Consider writing or re-writing the opening of your story to include more context and see if that helps to make your stories more engaging.
You might be surprised at how much it helps.
Context is important when it comes to nonprofit storytelling.
Give it its due and you will increase the impact of your stories.
- The primary goal of your storytelling is to get your readers to FEEL something.
- You want to explain where your hero lives and what surrounds them and you want your readers to put themselves right there with them.
- Get your readers to put themselves into the context by describing the context using as many of the 5 senses as you can.
- Give context it’s due and you will increase the impact of your stories.
Keep doing good work,