Stories That Move The Movement

Real stories, narrative stories, are powerful.

They connect people and forever change those people for the better.

Great stories exist outside time. They live in people’s hearts.

And they fuel their actions

That’s why stories are the language of tribes. And as such, they hold the power to emotionally connect people. And to define and spread movements.

Just as a great film can move people to action, so, too, can storytelling. Because stories transcend mere messaging.

Instead, they engage the audience’s emotions and senses. They reflect their hopes, dreams, and desires.

They take them on a journey of discovery and self-reflection that makes them act.

David’s story

It was a glorious, early spring morning in the city.

The sun shone brightly. The trees were newly green.

All around, vibrant splashes of color punctuated the scene.

Enter David

David was on his way to work. Late as usual. So he picked up his pace.

But even at his half-walk, half-trot gait he couldn’t help but feel the beauty of the day.

It was an amazing morning in the city.

At least it was until he ran headlong into a homeless man begging on the street.

Before he went down, the man was holding up a sign that read:

David helped the man up and dusted himself off.

In the process, he couldn’t help but notice that the man’s cup was empty.

But would he give the beggar even a few cents?

No, not David

He didn’t think that way. It was against his nature.

Instead, David reached into his suit pocket and pulled out a marker.

Then he grabbed the sign from the man, flipped it over and wrote all over the back of it.

Most of what we mistakenly call storytelling is simply serviceable content. Focused on messages and information (I am blind. Please help)

But we can go beyond that

We can tap into a world of emotions.

And, as a result, create a resonating, compelling story based on empathy. (It is spring and I am blind)

That’s when the stories we tell become remarkable. Sharable.

That’s when they go beyond facts and figures and messages to touch our emotions. And make people act.

It’s not easy

That kind of storytelling is hard to do.

That’s why there are so few true storytellers. And so many wannabes. People who wouldn’t know how to make an authentic, transformative connection if their lives depended on it.

As a result, they make the word storyteller meaningless.

They do it by slapping the label of story on almost anything. Whether it has any emotion in it or not.

You need to feel something

So before we explore story’s emotional power to move your tribe, we need to define what a story really is.

You’ll find a definition based on the seven elements that make up a real story here.

The first thing you’ll notice is that great stories originate from emotions.

Not from information.

Based on that, here are four story principles of emotional connection that drive people to action.

Principle One: Connect with a shared purpose

Tribes drive movements.

And members of the tribe are tied together by three things.

First, their emotional connection with each other around a common belief. That belief revolves around the idea that something in the world needs to change. This is expressed as their purpose.

Second, their shared experiences around that cause.

And third, the stories they tell about them.

These three components transform tribe members and the people that they help. As a result, great stories focus on that common purpose. They explore the transformation that takes place in the tribe and in the world because of it.

Remember Luke Skywalker

He was transformed from a sheltered farm boy. He became one of the greatest Jedi leaders in the Rebellion’s fight against the Empire.

An evocative story needs to follow a similar path and inspire the same kind of emotion, change, and action.

To decide if your story hits the mark, define the desired change up front. And then build touch points into the storytelling process to measure if they are being met.

Principle Two: Make us feel something

Real stories are about emotion. Not about information.

Emotionally engaging tribe experiences and stories are built from the inside out. Whether they are physical of virtual.

They start in the heart of tribe members. And they tap into the shared values that authentically connect them together.


Stories that miss the mark are built from the organization in.

These are usually self-serving tales that talk about how great the organization is. How wonderfully and efficiently it functions.

They are invariably filled with statistics about the problem. Followed by information about the organization’s efforts to solve it. Belching cold, hard, facts along the way.

Instead, they should be filled with empathy, emotion and heart.

They should make us feel a strong emotional connection with the tribe and the people they help.

Principle Three: Focus on one unifying theme

Human beings can only keep so much in our heads at one time.

So don’t fall into the trap of pushing too many talking points. Too many sound bites. Too many elevator pitches. Too much blah-de-blah.

It’s the purpose, stupid

Rather, you should focus on one central theme. A theme that expresses your tribe’s purpose.

That theme can be expressed in many ways and in a variety of media. It can be expressed with different stories about different people. But all with the same moral.

Without this central, core idea, your stories will eventually fall flat.

Principle Four: Give us something to do

Every story that has the power to move people to action makes a strong value statement. A moral.

Part of that moral is a call to action. Implied or explicit.

The most powerful calls to action drive tribe members to a tribe experience. Most often these are interactive platforms that help the tribe do something they want to do.

When your story moves people and then directs them to such a helping platform it begins an action loop. A loop that works like an engine to drive the movement forward.

It goes something like this:

  • The story connects tribe members to each other and their shared purpose.
  • Their purpose is reflected in the moral of the story.
  • The moral drives them to a platform that helps them do something related to their purpose.
  • The platform gives them a unique, emotional experience that they want to share.
  • Tribe members share their experience by telling stories about it.
  • Those stories reflect their shared purpose.

In short, don’t write just to tell a story. Write a story to make a difference.

Principle Five: Make it easy to share

Great storytelling is not about stories read. Or stories seen. Or stories heard.

Great storytelling is about stories shared and stories lived.

It’s about creating experiences for the tribe that generate stories worth sharing.

It’s about someone picking up the story and telling someone else.

It’s about someone acting on the story because it connects with them. And it connects through their worldview, their passion, and a higher purpose.

That’s where the true power of storytelling is.

To create these stories, we have to stop thinking about them as messages.

Repeat after me

“Stories are not messages.” “Stories are not messages.” “Stories are not messages.”

And it’s a good thing, too. Because messages don’t work anymore.

Isn’t it ironic

People now have the attention span of a gnat. And the spare time of a may fly. Yet we continue to inundate them with messages. and wonder why they don’t remember them.

Or care about them.

In fact, they care more about their tan then they do about yet another message from you, my friend.

It’s a question of questions

We need to change the questions we ask when we start thinking about a story.

The correct question is not,

“What should we say?”

The questions that we should be asking to guide our stories are:

  1. What do we want to be?
  2. Who is our tribe?
  3. What is the purpose we share with our tribe?
  4. Who do we need to engage?
  5. How do they see the world?
  6. What is the change they seek to make in the world?
  7. How can we help them?
  8. What experiences can we create to move the cause forward?
  9. What will touch them emotionally?
  10. What do we want them to feel?
  11. What action do we want them to take?
  12. How can we make the story easy to share?

So the next time somebody raves about an experience that changed their lives—ask them to describe it.

Count the emotional adjectives.

I bet there won’t be one mention of the figures, statistics, or the cold, hard, facts.

But that’s just my opinion. What’s your take?