Disruptive Storytelling Breakout

How to make an unsexy topic sexy and communicate urgency of issue?

  • Create a message of hope, provide something attractive for people to engage
  • Use visuals and keep people focused on change they can realize in their own lives (e.g. the current generation), not distant future (e.g. Mother Jones’ June 24 climate change maps).
  • Infographics can be helpful
  • Top XX lists
  • Help technical experts (lawyers, scientists) to simplify the story, so it is more accessible – report back to the experts with data that proves it’s effective
  • How to get people to share their stories, especially when their security is at risk (e.g. in Iran), without endangering them?

What do people define disruptive storytelling?

  • Challenging assumptions
  • Simply standing out from all the noise
  • Conveying a difficult message that may not be understood without a story
  • Making people think more broadly
  • Connecting the dots to everyday life; creating an “aha” moment
  • Emotional appeal
  • Distilling a story to the emotional essence, not getting caught up in too many details
  • Using the right method to cut thru noise
  • Shift a social norm or create a new way of acting
  • Normalizing the uncomfortable, when necessary (social movements breaking taboos)
  • Example – Natl. Science Fdn. video: little girl named Sam who is turned off to science b/c she is constantly turned off to experiment, get dirty, etc. and encouraged to value appearance
  • A powerful symbol (Wendy Davis’ pink tennis shoes)

How to get funding to get and tell good stories?

  • Interesting that Development depts. in large orgs. aren’t as often hamstrung as Communications depts. to be ‘totally accurate’
  • Establishing the Communications dept. as the experts who know how to tell stories, and getting them the organizational buy-in
  • Include an ask (social media share, take political action, make donation) – that’s why to tell the story
  • Book Contagious, J. Berger, tells why ideas go viral
  • Facebook, while not scientific, can be a great place to experiment and check audience temperature, then take those lessons back to the blog etc.

How to increase capacity without spending money or hiring people (with “magic”)?

  • Authorize/deputize people beyond the Communications experts to be storytellers
  • Incorporating different staff to help storytelling
  • Tools like Esri (, Mapbox use maps to tell more compelling stories
  • Consumers Union “” tool helps capture and sift the best ones
  • Andy Goodman is a great consultant
  • DC Speak Easy runs local workshops
  • Resource Media has a variety of Visual Communications resources.
  • What are the best platforms for this work?

How do you keep disruptive storytelling fresh, and when is the best time to be disruptive?

  • Video
  • NPR
  • Op-ed to share a view
  • Water is Life campaign to highlight disparity between 1st world complaints and 3rd world problems (“I can’t watch cable” vs. “I don’t have water”)
  • Take advantage o/technology people area using (social media #I Stand with Wendy)
  • People need to be able to see themselves in the story (even if they’re the villain), it allows them to decide for themselves what is their next action

How do we deal with people’s fragmented attention?

  • Creating videos, number testimonials, etc. may not break through, but then “grumpy cat” goes viral – it can be frustrating
  • Sincere messages (authenticity) have the possibility to break through – children, for example, have an amazing ability to engage people
  • Be careful not to focus too much on the media, and not enough on the social
  • Too polished, too clean cut doesn’t relate to people’s real lives
  • Vulnerability element can be helpful

Examples of successful disruptive storytelling

  • Palin & wolf issue dramatically grew Defenders of Wildlife, even if it was short-lived

Disruptive Storytelling Session: moderated by Julia Rocchi, National Trust for Historic Preservation
[notes by Aileo Weinmann, Resource Media, @AileoWeinmann]