Last week I interviewed a woman who is reshaping the lives of literally thousands of women in Rwanda – the poorest of the poor – by teaching them to overcome poverty through a six-month self-help program. She told the story of one woman who’d completed the program. This woman emerged from the crowd wearing a brilliant yellow dress and shiny shoes and emanated that air of pride that African people can carry so well. Yet just a year before, the same woman had dressed in rags, hidden away in her hut in the Rwandan mountains, drinking homemade rum, and beaten daily by her husband.
By telling the story of that one woman, you could picture the transformation that the program brings about. She could have simply said, my charity helps Rwandan women overcome poverty through a self-help program. But because she honed in on one person, and painted a picture of her transformation, we care. That is the power of focusing on one – one person, or one scene – in your storytelling.
Take the case of a fictional charity working to eradicate poverty in Africa. Compare the two pieces of information presented in different ways.
1. Through the work of Charity X we are helping to alleviate poverty and disease across eastern Africa, saving thousands from starvation.
2. Elliot is three years old. His mum died of starvation. His ribs jut from his skin. Sores fester. Flies swarm around his eyes in buzzing black clouds. Elliot is among the 100,000 people in East Africa destined to die from starvation. Until Charity X stepped in.
What are the differences? Which do you prefer?
The second example tells a story by focusing on one thing – it takes one boy and uses his story to paint a much larger picture. And because it’s personal we care. By using a story, an experience, a scene, we care more than the simple recounting of facts. It’s much easier to empathise with a person than a situation.
What about these fictional examples from a life-coach:
1. I offer a professional life coaching service to help you step up and live your version of a dream life. I work with you one on one to uncover what’s holding you back, and provide the tools for you to step up and shine.
2. When my client Josie bounded into my office I barely recognised her. Her bobbed hair flipped about her shoulders in a stylish new cut, her gait was more a skip than a walk, and her smile – holy moly – it lit up her whole face with sunshine. Just six weeks ago Josie was desperate, hunched, tired. Today she’s a different woman. That’s the power of uncovering what’s holding you back and learning the right tools to step up and shine. I help people like Josie to step up and live their own version of a dream life.
Again the second story focuses on one client and her transformation and, by doing so, it better demonstrates the power of what the life coach offers.
How could you focus on one thing to tell your story?