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Six tips to nurture your storytellers

24 September 2021

Human storytelling through video can play an important role in building emotional connections with supporters. People are the living proof of a charity’s real-life impact so shining a light on your storytellers can help show the wide spectrum of services and outcomes for those you work with. It is the difference between telling audiences what you do and opening the door so they can see for themselves.

Giving staff and beneficiaries the opportunity to tell their stories can be hugely empowering. It is also a great thing to do both morally and strategically. But you need to be aware these individuals may often be inexperienced and lacking in confidence in front of a camera. Your role is to harness this authenticity. So here are six tips you can use to nurture your storytellers to do just that:

Authenticity

Authenticity is key to building trust and engaging audiences. Finding the right person/people to tell the right story is a crucial first step. For example, if you are making a film about your services, you want to find people who have experienced and/or delivered them first hand because they have the most valuable insight.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to storytelling, adapt creatively and consider how each approach affects the message and visual experience. E.g. Conversations between two or more contributors can be more sincere and relaxed than an interview. Engaging people in an activity they enjoy can take the pressure away and feel more instinctive. Or removing the camera and capturing audio only can also be a great option for less confident contributors and can be combined later with natural footage.

Here is a great example of a film by LadBible, which uses a conversation between a younger and older soldier. The authentic interaction, body language and understanding between the two contributors is what makes this film so effective.

To get both a genuine response and cover the key messages of your film, it’s important to ask questions that hit the points but allow personality and experience to shine through and create room for those brilliant, unexpected moments.

Understanding

To capture a charity in action often means filming amongst essential ongoing activity, so it is important to be aware of the jobs other people are carrying out. The size and experience of the film team should be adapted so that they can work with sensitivity with regards to the people and their surroundings.

Having a team which contributors can relate to is hugely beneficial and helps to bring out the best. This was extremely relevant on our last shoot for the National Autistic Society, where it was essential everyone on the team had some understanding of adults with autism, and possible sensitivities. Reading body language and adapting your approach to communicate in a way contributors are comfortable with will help your storytellers relax and provide honest insight. Using a familiar setting can also help and shows people in real-life context.

Take a person-centred approach and look after your contributors. Only ask questions they are comfortable answering and which have been outlined in advance, especially where content is sensitive or personal. It’s also important to detect when someone is distressed or uncomfortable and identify that this is not the right environment for them, or changes need to be made.

Organisation

Introducing yourself and the film team ahead of the shoot and making sure everyone knows what to expect on the day is a great way for people to prepare and familiarise themselves. A simple ‘meet the team’ document with photos and a short bio means people can recognise you on the day and understand your role. This again was particularly helpful ahead of our shoot with NAS, where some familiarity amongst the autistic adults helped to reduce anxiety around the unexpected.

Allocating people, time and locations as precisely as possible in a clear shoot schedule and sticking to it as closely as possible can reduce stress, allowing sufficient time for re-takes, travel, and set-up. The better organised you are and the clearer you are in your expectations, the more relaxed everyone will feel on the day.

Representation

Contributors should be represented positively with dignity and respect regardless of their background, situation and capability, and the aim should be to create a connection rather than distance between the audience and the individuals. Support, admiration and empathy are usually positive outcomes, but pity is not.

In this film we made for Cafe Art, a social enterprise supporting those affected by homelessness it was important that David – an individual who had been supported by the project – was represented as the talented, intelligent and outgoing man he was, to combat the stereotypes around homelessness.

Try not to oversimplify the issue or the solution. The great thing about human storytelling is that it is very personal, and each story should be communicated as an example rather than a blanket representation of your cause. Highlight the nuances and individuality, as this is where the true power lies.

It is also important to create space for the less-heard, unexpected stories, as these can help to combat generalisations and stereotypes surrounding your charity as well as rekindle the interest of your audience. Choosing only the most ‘camera friendly’ individuals to take part can be a lost opportunity to identify with different types of people and build a real picture.

Diversity of storytellers is key to ensure your content is reflective of your charity’s work, it’s values and supporters and should be an increased focus of many charities moving forward. Seize this opportunity to relate to and include more people in conversations, grow your community and boost engagement.

Consent

Make sure everyone involved has given consent for the exact purposes of the footage, and for a specific time frame. Be clear about where you’ll be showing it and for how long. This is important for both the charity and its people to make sure there are no issues at later stages.

Make it special

Speaking on camera is a big moment for many and can be daunting. Look after contributors on the day, making sure they know who to speak to if they have questions or need assistance.

Show your gratitude with a simple gesture. A thank you card, a follow up email or a voucher are small tokens of appreciation but can go a long way. This can also be a good opportunity to ask for feedback and mitigate any worries they may have.


For more filming advice check out:

Banner Image: Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Sophie Cooke

content producer, 2S Films

Sophie is the content producer for 2S Films, the video experts for the nonprofit sector, dedicated to helping charities create impactful films and multi-media campaigns in the digital age.