If you want to build a movement, you have to tell a good story. Julie Wiscombe (@jwiscombe) was at the 2013 Ashoka Future Forum; here, she shares her storytelling takeaways from the plenaries, workshops and breakout sessions.
When I hear the word veteran, I picture an old man with a beard wearing an Army T-shirt and hat. He has a couple of tattoos and is holding a sign that reads, “Homeless Veteran. Please Help. God Bless.”
I was presented with an entirely different story of veterans, however, at Ashoka’s Future Forum at the end of May. During the session “Storytelling for Movement Building,” produced and facilitated by Kara Andrade, Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, shared the story of Todd Bowers, a young, Purple Heart veteran who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Todd was wounded when a sniper’s round hit the scope of his rifle, sending fragments into Todd’s face. He lost sight in one eye and hearing in one ear. Yet Todd also studied Middle Eastern affairs and Arabic at George Washington University. He worked with a congressman for two years and today speaks out on behalf of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Todd’s story alone changed my perception of veterans—they’re more than grizzled guys on the side of the road. In fact, more than 2.5 million veterans are women, and thousands of them are coming home every day, using the skills and lessons they learned in the field to build stronger communities.
Todd’s story can change how U.S. citizens view and respond to veterans—as it did for me. And there are thousands of other stories just like his.
Storytelling is a powerful tool for social change, which is why this theme was woven throughout Ashoka’s Future Forum. We talked about storytelling during the sessions, we dedicated an entire workshop to it, but most importantly, we shared our stories with each other.
Three lessons learned about storytelling at the 2013 Future Forum:
1) There is power in being concise
Drawing inspiration from the Race Card Project, each participant at the Forum was invited to write down his or her story of change in six words or less. And during Thursday’s evening program, new Ashoka U.S. Fellows were given the opportunity to introduce their six-word stories. For example, Sarah Hemminger, founder of the Incentive Mentoring Program shared, “Feel alone? Expand your definition of family,” and Kendis Paris, founder of Truckers Against Trafficking said, “Truckers Against Human Trafficking? Hell Yeah!” In just six words each Fellow gave a powerful and memorable insight into his or her work.
2) Know the “why” behind the story
What’s the most important element of storytelling? It’s defining a central theme, according to MothSHOP storytellers, a NYC-based group dedicated to crafting powerful, first-person stories. During their storytelling workshop, they challenged attendees to define what their stories were about and why they were important. The takeaway: If you can answer why you are telling a story, and why it matters to listeners, then you’re on track to craft stories worth remembering.
3) All relationships are fed by storytelling
Nothing sells like a good story. But more importantly, nothing builds a relationship like a good story. The combination of conviction and storytelling brings people together, fuels relationships, and changes perspectives. We each have the responsibility of telling our stories, but it’s just as important to let others tell their stories too. Something special happens when someone who has never shared his or her story is suddenly presented with a microphone or a tape recorder.
Like Todd, my new favorite veteran, we are all authors and have the unique responsibility of sharing our stories. The story of social change is being written right now—it is a reality show and it is up to each of us to be co-authors and co-contributors.