Common Questions

  1. How can I coach my advocates to tell a good story?
  2. Good storytelling takes time and practice. Telling a good story is a lot like telling a good joke. The first time you tell it, it may not land all that well. But we read our audience's reaction, make some tweaks, and try again until eventually we land the joke (or the story) every time.

    So the best way to coach your advocate to tell a good story is to encourage them to start practicing months before they come for a fly-in or speak to a legislator's office. Make sure they understand how to structure a story, and then encourage them to try telling their story to their peers back home. To help sharpen their stories, use these Story Feedback Guides.

  3. Is there a difference between "story" and "narrative"?
  4. Yes. Though in everyday conversation you might still hear and use "story" and "narrative" interchangeably, they're not the same things. And the difference is more than just semantics.

    A narrative is a telling of a sequence of events. This happened, and that happened, and something else happened, and so on.

    A story is a type of narrative that is structured to engage audiences and maximize emotional impact. That is, when we tell a story we are simply structuring a narrative - moving its component parts around, taking some away, doubling down on others - in a way that better engages and relates with our audience.

  5. What's the best way to incorporate data into stories?
  6. We're often asked whether it's better to present data at the beginning or end of a story. But we don't believe the timing of where you place the data is all that influential over whether or not a story lands. What's most important is to make sure that the data fits seamlessly into the story. Here are two ways to make sure you do that.

    1. Be physical in your description. Concepts like percentages can be tough to grasp or visualize. That can confuse your listeners and take them out of the story. Help your listener by describing the data's implications with a physical example. For instance, "I looked at my brother on my left and my husband on my right and it just hit me like a sack of bricks. One of us was going to be in the hospital with this disease by the time we were 60."

    2. Present data in the context of your story. Data without context is easily forgotten and may do more to confuse than clarify. Use data in ways that help your audience understand your character or their goal or the conflict they're addressing.

  7. What's the best method for collecting more stories from my advocates?
  8. Collecting enough good stories from your advocates is challenging. Even with the best plans, it's difficult to predict what kind of a story you're going to need for the odd one-off requests that come in 8 months down the line.

    We've seen two successful models for building a robust pool of stories for government affairs.

    In the first model, every member of the government affairs team listens for good story candidates as part of their daily routine, looking for stories that reflect a "Master Story" framework. Once candidates are identified, staff notifies the communications team for follow-up with the storyteller. This model is notable also for how it helps unite staff to tell the same story about the organization. Click here to learn more about the Master Story.

    In the "Storyteller Talent Agency," government affairs launches a phone interviewing blitz to find versatile storytellers - not just stories - who are willing and able to tell stories about different subjects that are relevant to policy goals. Staff then act like a talent agency, matching storytellers to storytelling opportunities in accordance with their strengths. Click here to learn more about the Storyteller Talent Agency.

  9. Do you have data on Washington insiders' media and information habits?
  10. Yes, we do. We surveyed more than 1,200 Washington insiders from the Hill, federal offices, and private industry and presented our findings in Washington in the Information Age.

  11. Is there a "right" way to tell a story?
  12. Yes. The foundation of every good story is a solid structure. And that structure is exceptionally simple: a relatable character confronts a conflict to achieve their goal. To learn more about building the right structure and why it's so important, click here.