If you work hard to put wonderful things into the world, you may wonder at times why people are so reluctant to take advantage of it.
“People talk about how they need help with mental health,” says the founder and CEO of a mental health organisation. “But when we put on free events they don’t come!”
Could better storytelling help?
I think so, and over three hours this week a small group of us worked together at her HQ to look at general storytelling principles, then apply them to specifics.
To begin, we considered a launch event the previous evening. I asked participants if they could remember hearing a story at the launch – any story – and what was their own “Oooh!” moment.
For me, it was when a man told me that something bad had happened in his family and he’d stopped seeing his grandparents.
I can’t help it. I’m human. I wanted to know what had happened: that was my Oooh. (But I’m also relatively well behaved, and restrained myself from asking.)
Back at HQ, everybody else recalled an Oooh moment, and shared it – if somewhat awkwardly, because acknowledging that we felt an Oooh means admitting to being nosy and probably a bit judgemental. But we’re all like that, no?
I reminded participants that I’m a journalist, and therefore nosy and judgemental by training. I have spent many hours listening to stories that were often quite dull. I’ve learned to suppress any outward sign of boredom, and indeed any outward sign of Oooh when that occurs (because it can freak out the person talking, if you suddenly look interested).
Inwardly, when a journalist gets an Oooh moment, the heart sings, and we think: that’s my story!
You can do this too.
Simply take your own Oooh moment – whatever it may be – and imagine the most sensational headline you can imagine. In the example I’ve already given: “Family drama robs boy of his grandparents.” (To be clear: I don’t mean to show disrespect to the individual in question. This is just an example.)
How does this help a non-profit get people to attend its wonderful free events?
Well, again, this is just an example. But instead of saying, “We’re running a free event about mental health, please come along”, you could grab the reader’s attention, and engage emotion, by sharing the moving human story identified by your own Oooh:
“Recently, we met a young man who carried a painful memory. It was a memory from his childhood. Something that particularly troubles him when he’s feeling run down, tired, depressed…
“He didn’t know how to talk about it, and kept it bottled up – until he came to one of our free events, and dared to share his trouble. Having done so, he felt immensely relieved.
“He had made friends. He left with a spring in his step, and a timetable of our upcoming events in his hand.”
“If you’ve got something that troubles you, our next free event is on [insert date]. Please join us.”
That kind of thing.