Empathy and the power of stories

We laughed, we cried, we empathised. Yesterday’s Being the Story event, curated and organised by Jude Habib of SoundDelivery was a showcase for stories.

Four images from the Being The Story event

It wasn’t a traditional charity conference. There was no mention of digital comms channels, no talk of impact measurement. We shimmyed our pom poms, we boxed, we walked in other people’s shoes and sang. But most of all we heard people’s stories, told first hand. It was moving and powerful and upsetting and inspiring. It was all about the experience.

The stories

Each speaker shared their story in their own way. The common thread was how the speakers had used their own experiences to do something amazing. I can’t even start to represent the power of the stories which were shared. So here is a very brief summary, with links to more information on the BeingTheStory website. We heard from:

  • Pastor and community campaigner Lorraine Jones whose son Dwayne Simpson was fatally stabbed in Brixton in 2014 and set up Dwaynamics to help young people develop life skills through boxing and fitness
  • Sam Smith whose own troubled start in life inspired him to support young people
  • Jodie Clark whose own experience of disability discrimination by employers led her to become an advocate
  • Solicitor Sue James who tells the stories of the people she represents in Hammersmith and Fulham Law Centre
  • Mandy Thomas‘ who told the harrowing story of domestic violence
  • The Empathy Museum’s project of ‘A Mile in My Shoes’ which was recently used at the NHS Conference to help health professions understand the experience of patients
  • Brititte Aphrodite who shared sections from her punk poetry show about her depression
  • Naveed and Samiya Parvez who created Andiamo to fit and 3D print orthotics after their experience with their son – “we realised that we’d always had healthcare done to us, not with us”
  • Emma Lawton who shared how her diagnosis of Parkinson’s at 29 changed her life in a positive way
  • Hassan Akkad who shared his 87 day journey to the UK from Syria
  • Photographer Giles Duley who shares the stories of the people he photographs via his humanitarian projects
  • The Micro Rainbow International Interfaith Choir.

How stories are told

The stories they told were amazing. But more than that, it was how they were told. Hearing directly from someone in the same room, is very powerful.

In some cases the delivery was a performance. Watching Emma Lawton peg visual representations of the things that had happened to her, then cut the piece of string held by her parents was one of the most moving things I have seen. It brought the house down.

First-hand storytelling

First-hand stories are powerful. You might think you are doing this already through your case studies. But it is not the same.

This is about creating a platform and a culture where people want to share their stories for you. They are the ambassadors for your cause, not your charity. They help people to understand and empathise about the condition / experience which helps to inspire someone to help do something about it (through donating / volunteering etc).

How to harness this is crucial. The strongest channel must be the in-person delivery. The top of the comms pyramid is the opportunity to be listened to for 20 minutes with no distractions. How could you not be affected?

There are other examples which come close. The audio / shoe experience from the Empathy Museum connects sound with something physical. The WeAreHere installation in June bought the stories of WW1 soldiers to life.  There must also be examples of individual storytelling using Virtual Reality. These are all about intimacy and experience. By sharing an experience we can feel empathy.

Can this be done in other ways? Watching a video of that person is good but not the same as in-person delivery. You have to be so engaging that the hovering swipping finger stays still until the end. Can you distill someone’s story into 140 characters, a written case study or blog post? It is of course possible but is it enough? Maybe it depends on the complexity of the story?

Text with quote from the event ""One of my clients could only afford 1 light bulb & had to move it from room to room.""

There are some organisations doing this. For example SeeMeScotland’s recent #myunfilteredlife campaign where people have been sharing images on instagram with many saying ‘I don’t usually join in with social media shared like this’. An intimate picture and powerful words, directly from the person helps us to share the experience.

SeeMe Scotland

Start with empathy

There are organisations who have expert ambassadors who publicly talk, for example CoppaFeel’s founder Kris Hallenga who was the highlight of one Media Trust conference and the Expert Citizens programme. Emma Lawton is herself an ambassador for Parkinson’s UK. And many organisations have beneficiaries who speak to the media.

SoundDelivery’s mission has been to help organisations collect and use the stories of the people they work with. They understand the power of putting on a pair of headphones, listening to someone speak and sharing someone’s world.

The question for us all as charity comms people is how to find and share the authentic voices. Whether you take inspiration from Emma Lawton’s performance or ideas from the Empathy Museum, now is the time to be creative. Now is the time to find ways to put empathy rather than sympathy at the heart of your comms.

More from #BeingTheStory

Do look at the BeingTheStory storify to get a sense of the day (as well as the hashtag from the event). Lots of people have also written blogs, sharing their thoughts:

Spotted any first-hand stories? Do share them in the comments. This week I read this story in the Metro Online for World Alzheimer’s Day – My nan’s dementia and me.

(Images with thanks to @magnetogaby @katiecubbage and @sushi_juggapah. )

Advertisements

Content Curation – how to use Storify and live blogging

Got a big social media campaign or event coming up? Or want to tell your story in a new but authentic way? You need to get up-to-speed with content curation. Here’s how to capitalise on all the great content, comments and good feeling around your charity.

What is curation?

Curation is a fancy way for describing how you bring lots of different assets together to tell a story. In the old days you may have written a press release or general page about what happened. Now you can show what happened by including the tweets, videos, links etc. The storytelling is more authentic as you are doing it through the voices of other people, not just your organisation.

Curation can be done manually through your blog or you could use free sites such as Storify or Pinterest.

Campaigns and awareness raising

Time to Change produced a live blog through yesterday’s massively successful #timetotalk campaign. It gave them a place on their website to collate and share all the news coverage, tweets, pictures and messages of support as the campaign spread.

Live blog from #TimeToTalk

Curation is a good way of collecting everything together after the campaign, to say thank you and to celebrate achievements. Take a look at this example from Girlguiding of their Say No to Page3 campaign. They used Storify to share messages of support for the campaign as well as links to the petition and press coverage.

Curation is also great for telling a linear story, ie this is what happened as it unfolded. A great example of this is Mind’s Storify about the #MentalPatient outcry last year. They produced it really quickly after the event so once the twitter noise had died down, the media had somewhere central to look for information.

Other inspiring awareness-raising uses of Storify

Selection of DiabetesUK Storifys

Events

There are lots of examples of charities using curation to gather content around a fundraising event (runs / cycles / jumps etc). These are great ways of connecting with the fundraisers doing the event as well as their supporters. Take a look at BHF’s London to Brighton Bike Ride 2013.

Events such as conferences, meetings, parties, lectures, galas are prime for curation. You can add so much value to an event by showing behind the scenes, what participants got out of the event as well as general comments and pictures.

SoundDelivery produced an excellent Storify of the Social Media Exchange, not just the usual collection of tweets and resources from a conference. It punctuated the sections with a couple of sentences giving context. They included video, photos, Vines and audio to bring the day to life. They also added links to other useful resources which had been mentioned on the day. It is quite long but it’s the kind of Storify you’ll go back to again and again for inspiration.

Grayson Perry’s Radio 4 Reith Lecture last year was a brilliant example of live blogging. Links, pictures and comments were all being added in real time alongside the 40 minute programme. It generated a rich experience.

Other curation examples

NCVO's Pinterest boards

Top tips for content curation

  • Have fun and be creative. You don’t always have to produce content which is related to your cause (for example Beat Blood Cancer’s Laugh for Leukaemia joke competition). Reward your supporters with content they’ll like.
  • Do you have any linear (success) stories you could tell? Think about Rethink’s Find Mike – this is perfect for curation as it started small, got lots of press and social media coverage and then had a happy ending.
  • Think about the stories and messages you have within your organisation, which would work told in this way? What assets (video / photos / comments etc) do you have which could be collected together to tell a story? Curating just tweets isn’t enough.
  • Does your audience use Storify (or other similar sites)? If you don’t know, ask them. Also look at how many views and followers similar organisations have if they are on Storify. If your audience are not there, would you reach more people by using your blog for curation?
  • Invite supporters to contribute. Don’t forget to tell them they’re included and ask them to share.
  • Be selective about what you include. It’s not curation if you include everything.
  • Devote time to get the skills within your team. Look at lots of examples to help you understand how you could best use curation.
  • Don’t underestimate how much time it takes. It’s hard to get it right.
  • Include a donate link / button if this is relevant (eg Save the Children’s Philippines response).

Don’t forget to promote your Storify channel (if you have one) prominently on your website. If you have share follow us / join us buttons Storify should be included alongside all your other social media channels (NB I didn’t find anyone doing this, even those with successful channels). People won’t follow you if they don’t know you are there.

Oxfam's share buttons on their homepage

Conclusions

Curation is generally free but time consuming. It takes practice to do it well but it is a great way of re-using content which has a short lifespan.

Further reading

Please do share your examples and top tips as a comment or via Twitter and I’ll add them here. There must be loads of examples of other museums or galleries doing interesting things with curation.

Can I help you?

Please also get in touch if you’d like me to help you think about how to use your content. I am a freelance web editor and can help you give your communications a healthcheck and ideas injection.