4 Tips for Great Storytelling with Lisa Diaz from Iris Films
Earlier this week we shared an episode of The Ministry Growth Show where we interviewed Lisa Diaz. You can listen to the episode HERE. Lisa is a film maker and storytelling coach working with non-profits and churches to tell better stories through her company Iris Films. Lisa’s story began in 2013 on a trip with One Child Matters where she was tasked with telling a couple different girls story’s. After coming back from that trip she got a ton of great feedback both from One Child Matters and from the viewers of her video. Her video was played at a women’s conference where the impact of her content was overwhelming. One Life Matters ran out of child sponsorship packets at that conference and that was the moment Lisa realized the incredible power of a great storytelling. Today, we’re going to expand on the topics Lisa and I discussed in this episode and share 4 tips for great storytelling.
Non-Profit Storytelling Tips from a Film-Maker
During our discussion Lisa shared a handful of great storytelling tips that we think might help your next story project. Telling your ministry stories can be a complicated and overwhelming task, but if you can tell the stories of how God’s working through your organization, the results can be powerful. Now, great storytelling is a learned skill requiring a great deal of talent and experience. This article and the tips within it are not meant to be an exhaustive list, but our hope is to get you thinking about how to tell stories well and to encourage your research and pursuit of the topic. Stories told well can change the course and impact of your organization. Our hope is that you will take your stories seriously and start telling them to your benefit.
Tip 1: Focus on Characters
One of the first tips Lisa shares is the importance of finding and focusing on a strong character. Great characters are the focus of any great story. Look at any great story and the characters within those stories are the focus. Star Wars would not be the same without Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. Humans connect with stories because they relate to the characters within those stories. You may be saying, this sounds great but how does this apply to marketing my ministry? Well, how many times have you seen a video that focuses on the statistics around the organization? “Poverty affects this many millions of people. Please partner and help us fight this issue.” Those statistics absolutely need to be shared because the areas our ministries focus often focus in areas of dire need, but humans don’t relate to statistics the way they relate to characters. We relate to characters because we see ourselves in them, we see their struggles and conflicts and relate because we share similar struggles in our own lives.
When you are communicating your ministry stories, start with and focus on the characters within your ministry stories and use the statistics to give context and weight to the stories you’re telling. Instead of spending time developing stories about your ministry or your strategies used to fight the issues your ministry exists to solve, tell the stories of your beneficiaries. Find characters from your beneficiaries that have overcome struggles and conflicts and focus your stories on those characters.
Tip 2: Don’t Go Into an Interview Blind.
Throughout our discussion with Lisa there was a reoccurring theme that kept coming up. Lisa emphasized pre-production planning on multiple occasions. Just like anything else, being prepared is essential to the success of any project. Unless you’re a world renowned journalist, going into an interview blind will never have the same outcome as if you had gone in prepared. Know the story before you start asking questions. Get to know the person you’re going to be interviewing a little bit before you start asking them intimate and personal questions. Generally speaking, interview based stories are focused on our beneficiaries. We have to remember that often times they’ve been through terrible situations and we need to respect the individual. It’s important to build their trust and show them we care about their story not because we want to exploit their story for our ministries financial gain, but because we truly want to help other people avoid similar stories and outcomes. Lisa says, “treat the person like a person, not just someone you can get a story out of for your ministries benefit. We want to treat the person with respect.”
Tip 3: Don’t be Afraid to Get Specific
We touched on this in tip 1, but don’t be afraid to get specific. It’s easy to get caught up in communicating the large issues of poverty, homelessness or hunger at the global level, but the statistics surrounding those issues don’t relate or connect at an emotional level. Yes, they absolutely need to be communicated, but only to support specific stories. Those statistics don’t relate at an individual and personal level. I love this quote from Charity Water founder Scott Harrison, “Our hearts don’t respond to data and statistics, stories have the power to make us feel.” Lisa is saying that we need to get specific with the stories we tell. Our beneficiaries have incredible stories of how God is pulled them out of the worst darkness, respectfully and with their permission, if we can tell them stories with detail and focus those stories will impact our organizations with far greater effectiveness than statistics and data. Lisa says that we should start granular in our storytelling, and once we understand the individual’s conflict, then we can zoom out and support that conflict with our stats and data from a 30,000 foot view. “This is just 1 of millions of kids that go hungry every day. This is just one example of a bigger problem, but as a viewer I feel like I know this girl, I feel connected to this girl.” In Lisa’s example, there is a face to the problem and conflict we’ve set out to solve with our organizations. Remember, we can still communicate our stats and data, but as supporting elements to our character driven stories. Don’t be afraid to get specific with your stories!
Tip 4: Find Balance Between Need and Hope
The last tip we’ll share in this article is the need to find balance between communicating the need and communicating the hope in our stories. During our conversation I shared that one of the things I’ve noticed in the non-profit space is a desire for ministries to focus solely on the need. More often than not the areas of focus for a non-profit is in an area of dire need. Kids are being trafficked all over the world, women and children are going hungry everyday, the homeless epidemic is getting worse every year with scary projections for the near future. These issues are huge and overwhelming and it’s easy to focus all of our attention on communicating the need. But, there is hope within these terrible situations. God is at work in incredible ways globally and we can and should absolutely share that hope. At it’s current rate of growth, within 30 years Christians are expected to make up 30 percent of the Chinese population of 1.5 billion people. Contrary to what the media will tell us, God is doing incredible things at scale globally. We can share that hope and we can share how God is specifically working through our organizations.
On the flip side of that, we can’t ignore the need and conflict in our stories if we want to develop our skills in great storytelling. Lisa said that she’s noticed the exact opposite in the ministry space. She’s noticed that ministries only want to communicate the hope and joy within the work they are doing. But, there has to be a conflict in our stories for our characters to overcome, otherwise our stories won’t connect with our audience. As Lisa put it during our conversation, “If there’s no darkness, there’s no need for light.” I absolutely agree with that sentiment. We have to find a balance in our stories between need and hope. We are all going through our own struggles and challenges every day, sometimes we are in a dark valley, and sometimes we are on a peak having overcome something difficult. Think about the trajectory of your life. Our entire lives are a cycle of overcoming conflict and experiencing the hope on the other side. We relate to stories that are structured in this way, because that’s how we experience life as humans. Find a balance between the need and the hope within your stories and you’ll begin connecting with your audience at an emotional level.
Next week I’ll continue this discussion with a follow up article from my conversation with Lisa where we’ll be discussing the story structure that Lisa uses in her films.
In the meantime, let us know what you thought of this episode. Were these tips helpful? Has your organization found success telling stories that are specific and character driven? We’d love to hear your thoughts!