How can you tell you’re doing any good?

On Saturday afternoon,  a nationally recognized spoken word artist graced the same stage that Hillary Rodham Clinton had stood on earlier in the week.

Making an expressionless face, he clutched the mic and threw his other hand in the air to make a sweeping gesture to the crowd. One hand out, fingers spread apart, and arm raised to the sky, and all he said was “word”. Basking in the glow of the stage lighting, he dropped his hand and instantly broke out in a grin. He only said one word and just one syllable, yet he seemed to capture exactly what we there to learn about.

The power of word in our lives, in doing business, and in doing good.

IMG_4903Earlier in the day, I had the privilege of attending the Transformational Media Summit in Washington, D.C., and it had a keen focus on storytelling and social impact. Dressed in a blazer and heels and armed with business cards, I made a nod to the seemingly buttoned-up, Washingtonian way of things at this professional event. However, as orthodox as my own wardrobe choices were, the conversations were not.

With stories like that of being an eleven-year-old, our sickness from technology, and a perspective on locked doors, I was fully engaged in what each person had to say. It was incredible; being in that room gave me a sense of energy that somehow fueled my not-caffeinated, sleep-deprived, and, quite frankly, zombie-like self the day after Halloween.

Admittedly, perhaps more than the conversations I had, I’ll remember the people I met there. Nevertheless, that didn’t mean there weren’t valuable lessons to be learned. Seated in my cushy auditorium chair in the George Washington University campus earlier in the day, I scribbled feverishly to capture the essence of each conversation, and here, dear readers, were my takeaways.

For organizations:

    • Only share content that is interesting and valuable. As one speaker noted, the best stories not only engage readers but also have a clear “punchline” – whether it’s to entertain readers and/or to share some valuable insight. The important thing to note here is to not tell stories that lose their steam or are self-serving. One way to do this is to offer a solution to counteract the problem presented.
    • Measuring social impact is just as important as creating social impact. On one panel, when asked  if “stories equal social impact”, most respondents said “no”. Stories are simply catalysts for creating change by contextualizing the work being done. To do so, stories need to provide messaging as to why your readers or listeners should care about your cause, how they can relate to your cause, and what are the next steps to advance your organization’s goals. From there, it’s also important to set metrics for measuring social impact. For example, Jake Brewer from, mentioned that his organization measures “victories”, or the instances in which his organization’s petitions have actually achieved their intended goals.
    • Engage your audience in a multitude of platforms. Know how your target audience consumes media, and tailor your story to its needs. This can be done by length, for stories shared on mobile devices are most effective when the message is shorter. This can also accomplished by offering various levels of interaction. Encourage your audience to participate in the conversation by providing a hashtag it can use, a post it can like, or a even a comments section. When possible, try to use a variety of platforms simultaneously to create different entry points. For a great example of this, check out MTV’s hit television show Shuga.
    • Focus on your master narrative and program design, and the stories will come. Clearly define your mission and vision statement, or your “master narrative”, that is at the core of your organization. According to Julie Dixon, formerly of Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication, focus on the roots, what you’ve accomplished, and where you want your organization to go to provide people a clear idea of how you’re contributing to a greater conversation. Similarly, good program design is essential to providing the framework for which people can open up and share their stories.
    • Use real people and real human connections to tell your story. When possible, try to stay away from stock photos and incorporate real images of the people, organizations, or causes you’re trying to feature. As an organization, you have an opportunity here to present your authenticity, and it’s from this more accurate presentation of a cause at hand that you can start to build trust with your audience.

For individuals:

  • Tell the story of your own skills and vision.  So long as you are gaining transferable skills from every experience, every step of your career is part of a larger story. Don’t undervalue the quirks, the one-off projects, and the varied experiences that you have when crafting your own professional narrative. That one time when you acted in drama class in high school? Ask yourself, what did I gain from it, and how do the skills continue to impact my work today?
  • Use negative moments to create teachable stories. At the conference, we had a breakout discussion session in several groups, and within my group was a higher education administrator from Liberia. She was discussing with us the various ways the media has reported on Ebola and the level of misrepresentation that continues to affect so many African men and women. More so than dwell on the problem, she said that she saw this as a “teachable” moment and an opportunity to craft a post-Ebola story of resilience.
  • Unplug sometimes to find your source of creativity. When you’re feeling uninspired about the story you’re trying to create, don’t be afraid to unplug and live life to collect new experiences. As obvious as it may seem, receiving constant information may provide us with new ideas, but other times the digital noise doesn’t allow us to think creatively or critically about the issues at hand.
  • Focus on solutions. In his presentation, Seán Dagan Wood, editor of Positive News, spoke about “constructive journalism”. He placed an emphasis on the angle of reporting, more so than the topic. In doing so, he encouraged us to reexamine the ways we ask questions in interviews and to offer solutions in our work.
  • “There is universality in details.” According to another panelist, when crafting a story for yourself, a cause, a business, or an organization, don’t be afraid to share the funny, quirky, strange, or visually interesting details. They are what give your stories life.

Now it’s your turn: What would you add to this list? How can organizations or people use stories to create change in their personal and professional lives? Do you have tips for young people specifically? Leave a comment below, and we may feature it in an upcoming post.

“Bucket List” is a weekly series curated by Everyday Ambassador brand strategist Audrey del Rosario. Every Saturday, we will feature events, conferences, and happenings that spark conversation and ignite your inner activist. To stay current with our latest posts, follow #bucketlist or #EAinspired on our other platforms, and check back regularly for updates.

Image Credit: Audrey del Rosario


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