Storytelling in Government: how to do it well
Our minds are constantly bombarded by digital noise: the 24-hour news cycle, politics and pundits, Netflix, advertisements, apps and social media. In fact, the average person looks at his or her phone 50 times every day. How can an organisation break through this distracting noise to convey their message to their audience?
Even with today’s increasingly sophisticated technology, the human brain still responds to content by looking for the story within it. Scientifically, storytelling prompts a neurological response within the listener that enhances feelings of empathy, connection, compassion and communication. Research also shows that messages delivered as stories are up to 22x more memorable than straight data.
Why do governments need storytelling?
Hand-in-hand with the increase of technology, is the decrease of genuine connection and the feeling of community. Gone are the days where you know your neighbour by name or invite a few people over for dinner. Now, we take Instagram stories capturing our day-to-day travels with the world and we have more Facebook ‘friends’ than in real life. This presents an issue for Government because, by their very nature, they’re representative of community.
When your organisation’s audience is disengaged from that feeling, your message is lost.
Storytelling can revive this sense of shared interests and common goals, enabling you to convey your message more effectively to the people that matter most: your community.
2.Informs the public, managers, legislators and public service employees
Simple data, no matter how beautifully presented, doesn’t stick in people’s minds. A great story, with a personal and human aspect, is accessible and far-reaching, and will move people, whether it’s the public, managers, legislators or public service employees, to support an action where dry data simply will not.
Consider the NSW Farmers Alive and Well initiative, which tells the stories of farmers that have experienced or narrowly escaped serious injury. Sponsored by WorkCover NSW, these engaging personal stories were incredibly effective at spreading their message on a new approach to farm safety to their target audience in a meaningful and relatable way.
Let’s not forget the videos put out by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) in conjunction with the Foreign Policy White Paper. This paper imparts important data about the impact of Australia’s foreign policy, but is given breath and life through videos that focus on the amazing individuals, including paramedics, scientists, and ambassadors, that are on the front lines every day.
How to tell your story
Stories that conjure emotion create sticky memories that help people to engage with your message in a real way.
The story needs to be about community at its core – about people, places and perspectives – not about your organisation (the DFAT videos are a great example of this). You can do this best by considering your audience, your message and invoking empathy.
- Audience – who do you want to share your story with, and why? Each decision about your story will flow from your answer to this question.
- Message – what is the moral of your story? You will need to determine what the purpose of your message is, and what you want your audience to take away from it.
- Empathy – your audience must be able to empathise with your story, and relate to the characters within it. It must speak their language and fit into their worldview.
Our brains are hardwired to think in stories. Weaving emotion, personalisation and relatability into a story that starts with a headline and ends with a call to action is content gold for government agencies. I work with government agencies to help them tell their story. How can I help you tell yours?
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