By George Heidekat
Content Strategist, Digital Healthcom Group
When you work in cancer-center development or marketing (or in any healthcare communications field, for that matter), you learn quickly that storytelling can build durable, emotional ties with donors as well as with patient and community audiences.
After all, given:
(A) a slide deck riddled with bullet points, or
(B) a personal narrative that dramatizes positive impact on real people ...
Which format do you think is more likely to win philanthropic hearts and minds?
But, whether you’re developing an annual report, a website, a presentation, a blog post, or a tweet, you may be wondering where to get started. Take heart. You, too, can tell more appealing stories with less stress by adopting this simple process:
1. Understand Why You're Doing It
Storytelling is so powerful because it compels your audience to experience what you describe. Research shows that plain facts and figures engage only the language-processing regions of the brain. A presentation with a story, however, is much stickier. That's because situations, characters, and actions activate the same parts of the brain that actual physical participation does.
2. Harvest Material Continuously
A story has to be about something. In other words, you need raw material to spin a tale. Don't wait until there's a deadline hovering overhead; get a head start now. Open a story ideas file before you're under the gun, and keep it stocked with the interesting names, faces, incidents, and accidents that crop up in the course of your work. Don't edit; for the moment, fragments are fine.
3. Recruit In-house Sources
Don't go it alone, either. Foster a network of sources who can help keep your file topped off. Even the most silo-prone organization harbors individuals who track happenings, accomplishments, and outcomes, big and small. Ferret those folks out. Establish relationships. Then find little ways to reward them for rough ideas and hot tips. Once you’ve organized your intelligence-gathering apparatus, you’ll find that it acquires a momentum of its own.
4. Make It Personal
When it's time to start writing, remember that people identify with other people. So, even if you're just announcing a new program, focus on its human impact. Get off square one by considering the roles of, and the effects on:
• Patients (people your center helps)
• Faculty (scientists and clinicians)
• Donors (board members, sponsors, volunteers, and other stakeholders)
• The community (citizens, business people, officials, institutions, and other members of the medical/scientific population that your center interacts with)
5. Weave It Into a Larger Narrative
It’s never a case of one and done; good stories bear repeating. For example, go ahead and issue that media release about the latest therapy breakthrough. But, once you capture the beginning, middle, and end, look for connections. Make sure the story you've told fits into your center's strategic narrative. That way you'll have opportunities to re-purpose scenes, plots, and characters, and enrich your institution’s over-arching legend, later on.
Once you start to think of storytelling as a process, you'll probably find that you're better able to boost audience engagement and simplify your writing chores. For more ideas about the strategy and tactics of storytelling, just ask Digital Healthcom Group at ________________________.
For Cancer Center Communicators,
Five Easy Steps to Storytelling Success
Rediscovering a Lost Landmark
of Modern Design
Assignment: This piece was commissioned for the Carnegie Museum of Art's Pittsburgh Modern story archive, in connection with the exhibition "Hot Metal Modern: Design in Pittsburgh and Beyond," on view at CMOA through September, 2016.
By George Heidekat
The big electric-blue displaythat crowned Pittsburgh’s North Shore for over 30 years was more than just a billboard. It was a declaration that good design is good not just for business, but for all of us.
To find out why, you’ll need a little background: The Westinghouse sign was what the outdoor advertising industry calls a “spectacular”—an oversize and technically complicated installation. Mounted on a rooftop and facing the Allegheny just upriver from Point State Park, it was a narrow band of neon, 200 feet long and a tad less than 18 feet high. That’s roughly the profile of four boxcars, handy examples of which continually rolled along the Norfolk Southern Railway tracks behind the gritty brick building that supported the sign.
It was cool. It was abstract. No company name, no slogans, no time and temperature. Just a row of nine identical “circle Ws” rendered in a total of 3,000 feet of glass tubing. In Pittsburgh, you didn’t need to be told what they stood for. [more]
Assignment: A version of this blog post supported Digital Healthcom Group's participation
in the 2015 National Association of Cancer Center Development Officers Conference. The goal was to position DHG as an easy-to-work-with source of practical expertise, by replacing hackneyed "storytelling" platitudes with an actionable process.
Assignment: Collaborating with animators at Actual Size Creative, I developed this explainer for a Consumer Electronics
Show product launch.
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