Storytelling is embedded in so much of our society that we don’t even realize it—and it’s much more than ghost stories around the campfire or that novel you picked up in an airport bookstore. Marketers use storytelling to craft the ads we see, the fundraising appeals sent to our mailboxes, and even the movie trailers we sit through at the theater.
There’s a reason so much of our society is reliant on it: storytelling has a unique ability to connect humanity, inform us on new issues, and instill empathy. It’s a true art that when done right, can pull on our heartstrings and feed our curious minds.
In an effort to illuminate the darkest corners of society through visual storytelling, Paul Lynch founded Cage Free Productions after watching college students connect to his footage on international inequity. Paul works with changemakers at the forefront of the world’s most pressing issues and helps draw their stories out to amplify and spread their work for positive social change.
What Is the Power of Storytelling?
What is storytelling and how is it so powerful? Good stories have the ability to change the way we see the world. When that happens, our behaviors can change too. That’s why storytelling can be such a powerful tool in the fight against climate change, or, the never-ending search for social equity. The power of stories to reshape our beliefs and actions is evident in documentary filmmaking, advertising, the books we read, and even the conversations we have.
Science has shown that our brains identify more with information that isn’t lectured at us, but displays a connection we have, like someone making a change that we’re hoping to make. Stories can be actionable without being forceful and that’s how we can use them to make sustainable change.
According to neuroscience, our brains release oxytocin when we begin to bond with a character in a story. That can drive whether we make donations to a particular cause, keep reading a certain book, or identify with the mission of a conscious business. So wouldn’t you agree that storytelling is a pretty good skill to have?
Why Is Storytelling Important?
There’s a theory that storytelling is actually how the human race has survived this long. Instead of a parent telling a child to be careful when going into the woods for example, the parent could share a story about how a loved one was attacked in the woods. Stories ignite our emotions, like fear, instead of just giving us facts. We’re more likely to act on emotions and self-preservation than boring facts presented in a boring way.
Storytelling gives us the ability to harness empathy and encourage sustainable change. Instead of being a one and done deal, storytelling isn’t stagnant but rather encourages a dialogue with conscious listeners. That’s the reason you want to share the plot of your favorite latest book or something cool you learned in a podcast with your friends.
The Power of Storytelling in Business
Paul told us that every business has a doppelganger. There’s always someone doing the worse version of what you’re doing in your venture, the difference is how the story is told. Unfortunately, a lot of companies degrading the environment have great storytelling (think of those images of BP representatives cleaning off oil-covered birds) while the little guys, the small companies making tangible positive change in their communities, might not have the best storytelling, or resources to invest in it.
Storytelling is a key component of ethical marketing, where marketers use an entrepreneur’s unique story to amplify their message on social media, expand their reach, and create a conscious consumer base with shared values. This practice is embedded in nonprofit marketing as well, where fundraising is typically the main goal.
TOMS Shoes, Bombas, and Warby Parker are all using storytelling to drive sales. In addition to quality testimonials, popular influencers, and enticing branding, each company exists solely to support people in need through a one-for-one model. This is a real-life application of storytelling because in each purchase, you’ve created your own story. It also makes you wonder, why doesn’t every business operate this way? That’s what these companies want. Once they have a connection with you and you have aligned values with their story, you’re less likely to stray from their orbit and more likely to share their story with your networks.
What Are Some Storytelling Techniques?
Paul let us in on a few narrative devices to utilize that he finds to be the most effective. Firstly, allowing the story to unfold naturally is key. If it feels forced, your audience will be able to tell. Each story has a distinctive beginning, middle, and end. Think about one of your favorite TV shows. Putting the end of the story first is a common hook to engage viewers and keep them watching the whole season through. Businesses can use this technique too, by focusing on the impact they’ve had and the lives they’ve touched, then rewind to how they got there.
Another key storytelling technique is to highlight the conflict that your business, service, or nonprofit is working to combat and provide an obvious solution. This is where Cage Free Productions comes in. They help entrepreneurs pinpoint their unique stories and extract them in an authentic manner for popular consumption, usually in video format.
Cage Free Productions: Actualizing Your Vision
Founded in 2006, Cage Free Productions seeks to unearth the stories of underdogs, visionaries, and changemakers, and use them to change minds. This B Corporation and 1% For the Planet member does deep work to share powerful stories that create an emotional connection with the public and actualize change.
By sharing stories, Cage Free builds bridges and eliminates borders by forging a collective empathy and understanding of the world that solves issues. They work with organizations in social justice, human rights, and sustainability who are eager to use storytelling as a mechanism for change.
Cage Free created Human-Centered Production™ to harness the power of authentic storytelling while refining messaging and solving problems. This is how Cage Free makes incredible videos and helps companies ‘unbrand’ and delve into their true purpose.
Paul Lynch, CEO & Founder of Cage Free Productions
Paul always wanted to be a Renaissance man and was cultivated to be a leader. He started his career as a visual storyteller after securing passes to visit the most intimate sections of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa. After brushing elbows with Nelson Mandela and other global development leaders, Paul faced the challenge of organizing the footage he took as a delegate at the Summit and quickly learned the power of storytelling.
Soon, Paul was jetting off to war-torn countries to capture stories of inequity around the globe. In the early 2000s just after 9/11, he found that there were so many untold stories about the reality of living without clean water access or recovering after the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka. By bringing these stories back to the United States, he hoped to have a role in educating the public on global inequity.
Paul founded Cage Free Productions in 2006 to use his craft of storytelling through video to shed light in dark corners. His unique approach allows for a great story to unfold naturally and spark curiosity.
“I believe that everyone should own their story. And it’s hard sometimes…to embrace, but if we’ve chosen that story, we know that it’s going to connect to the mission… but that person owns that story. As much as we can, we’re trying to allow that to emerge authentically and true to their way of articulating it. ”
How To Tell Your Story
As a lifelong storyteller, Paul has some key takeaways for how everyone can take action and ownership over their stories whether they’re for a business, nonprofit, or individual.
- Listen: The best storytellers and communicators are often the best listeners. Start listening to podcasts, reading essays, and absorbing content to learn more about how you can tell your personal story.
- Know What You Don’t Know: Stay curious and open to new ideas. This is one of the keys to Paul’s success in storytelling. With an open mind, you can learn new perspectives and effect greater change in the world.
- Ask Questions: What would the world look like without me? Or this company? Or this idea? These core questions can drive how you use stories to share your mission. Try building a case study of sorts for your business or nonprofit to see which elements stand out. Talk openly about your business and think critically about what comes top of mind.
- Use Narrative Techniques: How do you transform your video viewers or web traffic into customers? Using narrative techniques in your storytelling, you can delicately move people from where we are as a society (what the problem is) to what the future looks like (how you’re solving the problem). Peppering in triggers like text overlays and intense sound effects throughout your videos can make a huge impact.
- Treat Your Story as Art: Life stories can be an art form when they’re told with techniques that create an emotional connection. This is the reason you react a certain way during TV shows and feel empathy for a character. Certain sounds, visuals, and colors are meant to elicit an emotional response in the viewer that connects them more deeply to good stories.
Closing: The Power of Storytelling in Practice
Nex time you watch a movie trailer or scroll through advertisements, try to disseminate the story of the brand. What information are they presenting to you and why is or isn’t it compelling to you? By recognizing the power of storytelling in real-life, we can use it to uplift the brands who are doing excellent work whether it’s related to sustainability in business, holding corporations accountable for their misdeeds, or simply sharing stories for an increased impact.
We all have a stake in what’s happening to our planet. As stakeholders, it’s up to us to share stories that amplify social good and prevent further damage to the planet. By elevating the good, and sharing stories on sustainable change, we can all make a difference.
Additional Resources & Links Mentioned from the Episode:
- Paul on LinkedIn
- Cage Free Productions
- 1% for the Planet
- Black Marxism by Cedric Robinson
Sustainable Workplaces Manager & Writer
Jackie is the Sustainable Workplaces Manager at Urban Green Lab, a sustainability education nonprofit in Nashville, Tennessee. She’s passionate about connecting people with actionable ways to make a positive impact on the environment. She graduated from Dickinson College with a degree in Environmental Studies and a certificate in Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Jackie worked in the nonprofit world in Washington D.C. for Ashoka and the National Building Museum.
Jackie enjoys hiking with her rescue dog, finding craft breweries, and traveling the globe in search of plant-based eats.