There is an old adage about storytelling favored by authors. “Everything starts out as, and ends up as, a story.”
As whimsical a notion as that may be, when it comes to the art of persuading others, or establishing credibility for a complex or competitive grant proposal, for example, telling a story can be a very effective way of bypassing the natural human inclination to treat new ideas with mild suspicion. Everyone loves a good story. Storytellers, therefore, often find they have the power to engage others on a level where their natural curiosity overrides their skepticism.
Actually performing such a feat when applying for a grant, however, is easier said than done.
The main character of your story gets one chance to make a first impression. A good candidate for a “grant proposal hero” is a key member of your staff. Three things are going to happen in the minds of your audience if you are successful in making that first impression a good one. First, your protagonist will be viewed as a “good” person, which will help you establish trust. Second, you will create an emotional connection with your audience, where they will begin to care about what happens in your story. Third, you will create a frame of reference wherein your audience will identify with your protagonist and set aside their disbelief long enough for you to carry them through the story.
Stories follow the same pattern as great works of music. There is an overture, where you signal your audience a story is being told. There is a second movement, where tension is established. There is the allegro, where the climax is reached, the story concludes and the tension is resolved.
Authors generally agree the second act is where your story can create the most intense emotional impact. This is vital, because the human mind is razor sharp when it comes to remembering emotions. Long lists of features, numbers or names? Not so good.
Great stories are like great closing arguments in a big court case. Great trial attorneys are trained to get straight to the point and eschew long-winded introductions or conclusions. The reasons for this, at least from a storytelling standpoint, are obvious.
Any good will be acquired by presenting a sympathetic hero and any energy your story has by the time you get through the tension to the third act will be wasted if you start wandering around looking for a conclusion. Think about your favorite films and television shows. Some scripts can do three acts in 42 minutes and make you think you’ve braved generations of adventures. Yours should be no different.
Really talented writers can leverage the fact their audience identifies with their hero by making it seem like participating is helping bring the story to a satisfactory conclusion. Look for opportunities to accomplish this feat and you may find that emotional connection you worked so hard to establish is the key element in achieving success. Persuasive writing is both a talent and a skill, and it gets better with practice. With these basic fundamentals, the chances of making progress and reaching your goal will be greatly enhanced.
Heather Lomax is a media relations specialist for SBI Association Management and a contributing writer. Her articles include topics such as, advice on volunteer recruitment and tactics for more efficient nonprofit management.