Storytelling

Learn the practice of telling your story, sharing with others to connect across shared values, and moving together with trust on issues of urgency.

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This course is a collaboration with Leading Change Network. It is part of the Weave Learning Center.

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Unit 1: Story of Self

Why tell stories?

The initial challenge for an organizer—or anybody who’s going to provide leadership for change—is to figure out how to break through the inertia of habit to get people to pay attention. Often that breakthrough happens by urgency of need. Sometimes it happens because of anger— not rage, it is outrage. It’s the contradiction between the world as it is and the world as it ought to be. Our experience of that tension can break through the inertia and apathy of things as they always are.

How do organizers master urgency to break through inertia? The difference in how individuals respond to urgency or anxiety (detected by the brain’s surveillance system) depends on the brain’s dispositional system, the second system in the brain, which runs from enthusiasm to depression, from hope to despair. When anxiety hits and you’re down in despair, then fear hits. You withdraw or strike out, neither of which helps to deal with the problem. But if you’re up in hope or enthusiasm, you’re more likely to ask questions and learn what you need to learn to deal with the unexpected.

In order to deal with fear, we have to mobilize hope. Hope is one of the most precious gifts we can give each other and the people we work with to make change.

The way we talk about this is not just to go up to someone and say, “Be hopeful.” We don’t just talk about hope and other values in abstractions. We talk about them in the language of stories because stories are what enable us to communicate these values to one another.

All stories have three parts: a plot, a protagonist, and a moral. What makes a plot a plot? What gets you interested? Tension. An anomaly. The unexpected. The uncertain and the unknown. A plot begins when the unknown intervenes. We all lean forward because we are familiar with the experience of having to confront the unknown and to make choices. Those moments are the moments in which we are most fully human, because those are the moments in which we have the most choice. While they are exhilarating moments, they are also scary moments because we might make the wrong choice.

We are all infinitely curious in learning how to be agents of change, how to be people who make good choices under circumstances that are unexpected and unknown to us. In a story, a challenge presents itself to the protagonist who then has a choice, and an outcome occurs. The outcome teaches a moral, but because the protagonist is a humanlike character, we are able to identify empathetically, and therefore we are able to feel, not just understand, what is going on.

That’s why most of our faith traditions interpret themselves as stories, because they are teaching our hearts how to live as choiceful human beings capable of embracing hope over fear, self-worth and self-love over self-doubt, and love over isolation and alienation.

Therefore, storytelling is one of the most powerful tools organizers can use to unite a movement. Your story is the “why” of organizing — the art of translating values into action through stories. It is an ongoing discussion process through which individuals, communities and nations construct their identity, make choices and inspire action. Each of us has a compelling story to tell that can move others.

Two ways to engage

Leaders employ both the “head” and the “heart” in order to mobilize others to act effectively on behalf of shared values. In other words, they engage people in interpreting why they should change their world — their motivation — and how they can act to change it — their strategy.

Many leaders are good at the analysis side of public speaking: They focus on presenting a good argument or strategy. Alternatively, other leaders tell their personal story, often a tale of heartbreak that educates us about the challenge but doesn’t highlight the potential for successfully realizing the end goal.

An effective story of self has to have elements of both the analytical and the emotional. It is a story that involves the head and the heart — and moves people to use their hands and feet in action.

Action is inhibited by inertia, fear, self-doubt, isolation and apathy. Action is facilitated by urgency, hope, knowing you can make a difference, solidarity and anger. Stories mobilize emotions that urge us to take action and help us overcome emotions that inhibit us from action.

The key to storytelling is understanding that values inspire action through emotion. We experience our values emotionally — they are what actually move us to act. Because stories allow us to express our values not as abstract principles, but as lived experience, they have the power to move others to action as well.

Finding your story of self’s “choice point”

A story of self tells why we have been called to serve. It expresses the values or experiences that call each person to take leadership on a given issue.

The key focus is on choice points: moments in our lives when values are formed because of a need to choose in the face of great uncertainty. When did you first care about being heard, or learn that you were concerned about the issue on which you want to take action? Why? When did you feel you had to do something about it? Why did you feel you could? What were the circumstances? What specific choice did you make?

The three key elements of storytelling structure:

Challenge ⮕ Choice ⮕ Outcome

A plot begins with an unexpected challenge that confronts a character with an urgent need to pay attention, to make a choice — a choice for which he or she is unprepared. The choice yields an outcome, and the outcome teaches a moral.

Because we can empathetically identify with the character, we can “feel” the moral. We not only hear about someone’s courage; we can also be inspired by it.

The story of the character and their effort to engage around values engages the listener in their own challenge, choice and outcome relative to the story. Each story should include all three elements. It’s not enough to say, “I was scared.” You need to say, “I was very scared, I needed to decide, and when I did, I learned it was possible.” Challenge, choice, outcome. Incorporating challenge, choice and outcome in your own story

There are some key questions you need to answer as you consider the choices you have made and the path you have taken that brought you to this point in time as a leader. Once you identify the specific relevant choice point, dig deeper by answering the following questions.

Challenge:

Choice:

Outcome:

A word about challenge: Sometimes people see the word “challenge” and think that they need to describe the misfortunes of their lives. Keep in mind that a struggle might be one of your own choosing — a high mountain you decided to climb as much as a hole you managed to climb out of. Any number of things may have been a challenge to you and be the source of a good story to inspire others. After looking back on the story itself, think of what are the value(s) that this story is portraying and how is your story moment reflecting a value (it is all in the moment—storytelling).

Video: Intro to Public Narrative

Video: Story of Self

Video: Story of Self Example

Activity

Now it’s your turn to practice writing your Story of Self. Download this worksheet to get you started. Remember that public narrative requires interaction and coaching from others, so we encourage you to work with a partner to support each other as you identify choice moments of challenge, tell them with detail that brings your listening into that moment, and connect these moments to tell about your values.

Reflection

Once you feel ready, click below to take the final Certificate of Completion. A Weave Leader will reach out with your results and next steps. You can retry later if needed.

Unit 2: Story of Us

Introduction

The goal of a “story of self” is to enable others to “get you.” The goal of a “story of us” is to enable others to “get each other.” We tell a “story of us” to move others to join with one in collective action based on values they share. It is not a “categorical” us – people who fit into a particular category. It is an “experiential” us – people who may share certain values, rooted in common experience. This “us” is rooted in the experience of the “people in the room.” It works when people feel part of an “us.”

Your Story of Us may be a story of what we’ve already done together (common experiences), challenges we’ve already faced, and outcomes we’ve achieved. Or it may be a story of some of our shared heroes, challenges they faced, and outcomes they’ve achieved. Hearing how we’ve met Challenges in the past gives us hope that we can face new challenges together.

Video: Crafting Us in the Room

In this video Sarah explains to us how to craft the story of us, the us in the room.

Although the reach of a story of us may extend far beyond “people in the room” it becomes real only in the experience of the “people in the room” – or not. The test is simple. As we heard this story did we begin to feel like an us? The experience of shared values may grow out of stories of historic moments we remember, or have heard of; they might be stories of life events like having children, stories of finding out you were accepted to this program; stories of what happened the first time you met, or last night, or this morning. And, like all stories, the more detailed, the more specific, and the more visual they are, the more effective they will be. What were the names of the people involved? What did they look like? How were they different? Sometimes stories of us emphasize obvious differences in race, religion, gender, age, for example, may actually highlight commonality of values or common purpose.

Narrative Structure: “Shared” Challenge, “Shared” Choice, “Shared” Outcome

Title: The main character is 'US'; lightning bolt labeled A) Challenge zapping a dot labeled B) Choice, out of which an arrow labeled C) Outcome points in a different direction

The Challenge

The challenges “people in the room” have faced in the past, or face now (made real with stories, images, and details, not statistics).

The Choice

For a story to be a story, it centers on a “choice”. What choices did “people in the room” have to make to join this “us”, to be here, in this room, in this country, in this profession, to have access to this opportunity, to have learned what we are learning? In a story of us, the moments of choice we recall are those in which we responded with the kind of action that can make them sources of hope. People had to take risks, for example, to become part of this class, workshop, campaign. Founding stories recount choices made by those who initiated the community, enabling us to experience the values that motivated them.

The Outcome

Stories with vivid images that remind the “people in the room” of what they’ve achieved. Their own experiences of hope, experiences that point to your future.

Video: Susan Christopher’s Story of Us

As you watch, focus on the elements of the Story of Us that you hear in her story.

Activity

Now it’s your turn to practice writing your Story of Us. Download this worksheet and get started. Remember that the story of us is successful when people feel part of the story and the experiences illustrated! So get on the bike with other partners to brainstorm a story of us and get into specific moments of your experiences together that portray your leadership as a group.

Reflection

Once you feel ready, click below to take the final Certificate of Completion. A Weave Leader will reach out with your results and next steps. You can retry later if needed.

Unit 3: Story of Now

Introduction

We tell a Story of Now to communicate an urgent challenge faced by “us” that demands a choice to act: a compelling image of what will happen if we do not act, a hopeful vision of what could happen if we do act, and a call to commitment to the choice required. The “character” in a story of now is you, the people in the room with you are your us, and the response you make is the now. answering the question why does it matter? and why now?

Your Mission

Now we know why you’ve been called to your mission. We also know who the “us” is that you will call on to join you in that mission. A story of now articulates the urgent choice faced by that “us” that requires action: a challenging vision of what will happen if they do not act, a hopeful vision of what could be if they do act, and a call to choose commitment to the action required. The “character” in a story of now is you, the people in the room with you, and the broader community whom you hope to engage in action.

In Washington DC, August 23, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King told a story of what he called the “fierce urgency of now.” Although we all recall his vision of what America could be, his dream, we often forget that action was urgent because of the “nightmare” of racial oppression, the result of white America’s failure to make good on its “promissory note” to African Americans. This debt, he argued, could no longer be postponed. If we did not act now, we could never realize the dream.

In a story of now, story and strategy overlap because a key element in hope is a strategy – a credible vision of how to get from here to there. The “choice” we offer must be more than “we must all choose to be better people” or “we must all choose to do any one of this list of 53 things” (which makes each of them trivial). A meaningful choice requires action we can take now, action we can take together, and an outcome we can achieve.

Elements of a Story of Now

lightning bolt labeled A) Challenge zapping a dot labeled B) Choice, out of which an arrow labeled C) Outcome points in a different direction

The challenge

What is the urgent challenge that requires our commitment to act now?

The choice

What is the pathway to action: what will happen if we don’t act, what could happen if we do act, why we need to work together, the specific commitment each person must make now.

The hope in the outcome

What is the source of our sense of possibility that we could meet that challenge?

A story of now concludes with:

Will you join me in ___________________?

Why It Matters

The choice we’re called on to make is a choice to take strategic action now. Leaders who only describe problems, but fail to identify a way to act and bring others together to address the problem, aren’t very good leaders. If you are called to address a real challenge, a challenge so urgent you have motivated us to face it as well, then you also have a responsibility to invite us to join you in action that has some chance of success. A “story of now” is not simply a call to make a choice to act – it is a call to “hopeful” action.

Video: Why Act Now?

In this video Sarah Elraheb teaches us how to turn an important challenge into urgent by the craft into storytelling

Video: Story of Now Example

We watch part of the film Gandhi as a model of the story of now to understand the power of the story moments in answering the question: what should we do? Why now? This part is so powerful as it builds on both hope and urgency to build a strategic and measurable ask.

Activity

Now it is your turn to practice crafting your story. What urgent challenge that you care deeply about do you hope to inspire others to join you in doing something about? What choice will you call on your classmates to make if they are to meet this challenge? How could they work together to achieve this outcome? How could they start now?

Reflection

Once you feel ready, click below to take the final Certificate of Completion. A Weave Leader will reach out with your results and next steps. You can retry later if needed.

Unit 4: Linking Story

Introduction

So how do we put the three stories together? Your story of self is the foundation. Without a story of self why would anyone think you really know what you’re talking about. This is about life experience not technical expertise. Without a story of us there’s no leadership. Exercising leadership requires engaging others in working together. And without a story of now nothing happens. The thread that unifies all three is the values in which they are rooted. Their effectiveness is rooted in the power of the story moments (challenge, choice, outcome) with which it is built.

Self, Us, and Now

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? When I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?

~ Hillel (1st century Jerusalem sage)

Crafting a complete public narrative is a way to connect three core elements of leadership practice: story (why we must act now, heart), strategy (how we can act now, head), and action (what we must do to act now, hands). As Rabbi Hillel’s powerful words suggest, to stand for yourself is a first but insufficient step. You must also construct the community with whom you stand, and move that community to act together now. To combine stories of self, us and now, find common threads in values that call you to your mission, values shared by your community, and challenges to those values that demand action now. You may want to begin with a Story of Now, working backward through the Story of the Us with whom you are working to the Story of Self in which your calling is grounded.

Creating A Public Narrative

Now it’s time to put all three stories together in your public narrative: self, us, now. What are the values that link your self, us, and now? What theme links your self, us, and now? Are there particular images that link your self, us and now? You may begin your public narrative with a story of now, to call attention to your cause, move to a story of self, to explain why this cause is your cause, move to a story of us, to remind them why this cause is their cause, and back to a story of now to call on them to join you in action. You may also begin, as Obama did, with a story of self. And you could even begin with a story of us. There is no formula, but an effective public narrative will link all three elements.

Your Public Narrative is Always a “Work in Progress”

The goal of your work in this class is not to leave with a final “script” of your public narrative that you will use over and over again. The goal is to enable you to begin learning a process you can use to adapt your narrative over and over and over again, when, where, and how you need to in order to strengthen your own capacity – and that of others - for purposeful leadership and action.

Video: Putting it All Together

We'll be watching a five-minute Public Narrative by Maung Nyeu. While you watch it, think about the elements of SELF – US – NOW that you hear in his story.

Video: Linking Story Example

Activity

Reflection

Once you feel ready, click below to take the final Certificate of Completion. A Weave Leader will reach out with your results and next steps. You can retry later if needed.

Unit 5: Relational One-on-Ones

Introduction

“Organizing is a fancy word for relationship building.”

~ Mary Beth Rogers

We define organizing as leadership that enables people to turn the resources they have into the power they need to make the change they want. Power comes from our commitment to work together to achieve common purpose, and commitment is developed through relationships.

One of the best ways to get to know someone is by understanding their calling, why do they care? What are their resources? And what are their interests? Thus, story of self is a foundational part of relationship building.

There are different ways of exploring relationships and how we build them, in this module we will dig into the relational 1:1’s as a strategic way to build relationships, and understand others.

Mobilizing vs. Organizing

Leadership in organizing is based on relationships. This is a key difference between mobilizing and organizing. When we mobilize we access and deploy a person’s resources, for example, their time to show up at a rally, their ability to “click” to sign a petition (or their signature), of their money. But when we organize we are actually building new relationships which, in turn, can become a source not only of a particular resource, but of leadership, commitment, imagination, and, of course, more relationships. In mobilizing, the “moment of truth” is when we ask, can I count on you to be there, give me $5.00, and sign the petition. In organizing the “moment of truth” is when two people have learned enough about each other’s interests, resources, and values not only to make an “exchange” but also to commit to working together on behalf of a common purpose. Those commitments, in turn, can generate new teams, new networks, and new organizations that, in turn, can mobilize resources over and over and over again.

Leaders must decide how to lead their organization or campaign. Will the glue that holds things together be a command and control model based on coercion? Or will the glue be volunteered commitment? If our long-term power and potential for growth comes more from voluntary commitment, then we need to invest significant time and intentionality in building the relationships that generate that commitment—to each other and to the goals that bring us together. That requires transparent, open and mindful interaction, not closed, reactive or manipulating maneuvers.

Video: Building One-on-One Relationships

Trainer’s video: what is a relational 1:1 and how do we conduct 1:1 meetings?

Video: Relational One-on-One Example

As you listen to this model, think of the 5 steps of 1:1 you have learned. What questions do you hear Sachiko asking? Did it feel like an interview?

Activities

Course Reflection

Once you feel ready, click below to take the final Certificate of Completion. A Weave Leader will reach out with your results and next steps. You can retry later if needed.