Storytelling in America Using an International Lens: 5 Takeaways from Panel Discussion on International Communications Practices at Edelman

 

sdlby Sara Dal Lago

In an overcrowded marketplace, it can be hard for organizations to tell their story, or, rather, to pique the public interest and make sure to get their message through.

A survey conducted in 2013 by the Center for Social Impact Communication at Georgetown University, “Stories Worth Telling,” shows how storytelling will continue playing a leading role in the communication landscape, especially in the nonprofit sector, in the next few years. What is more, the study also reveals that bloggers have praised storytelling as the #1 Business Skill of the Next Five Years.

When it comes to building awareness and communicating stories in the United States and abroad, it becomes obviously more complicated. In such cases, organizations encounter further obstacles when trying to move people to action, like connecting with populations that are more difficult to reach, and overcoming cultural barriers.

After attending a panel discussion at Edelman entitled “Storytelling in America Using an International Lens,” hosted by Washington Women in Public Relations, I gained significant insights into the practice of international storytelling both for nonprofits and corporations.

Here are five takeaways:

  1. Focus on the messenger. As expressed by Aaron Sherinian, Chief Communications and Marketing Officer at the United Nations Foundation, “Tell the story first, and give credits in the end.”
  2. Don’t talk big numbers, but focus rather on a single story. Talking about hundreds of thousands of people in real need for food and water in Africa can be meaningful, but narrating the struggles in the life of a mother in Central Africa is even more significant. Numbers cannot always evoke feelings, but personal and direct stories resonate with audiences everywhere (Mame Annan-Brown, Chief Communications Officer at Results for Development Institute).
  3. Be aware of cultural norms, but don’t overdo it. As Mame and Aaron pointed out, learn how to approach the counterpart by learning how the counterpart wants to be approached. Ask, ask, and ask. Find the middle ground, and don’t try too hard, or you will look and sound made-up.
  4. Be authentic. When looking for partners, authenticity plays an essential role. Your partners’ motivation must align with your cause for your message to be perceived positively by the audience. And be sincere as well. As Paige Alexander, Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for the Middle East at USAID, pointed out, whether or not you are acting in a multicultural environment, honesty is extremely important.
  5. Don’t tell the perfect story, and learn from your mistakes. Carrie Rich, CEO and Founder at The Global Good Fund, proved how highlighting your own mistakes and sharing struggles to your contributors could sometimes pay off. It goes all back to point 4, after all. And finally, as suggested by Aaron, let storytelling be a little rough, without embroidering your story, leaving questions unanswered and, thus, room for curiosity and further discussion. 

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