When stories are too big, too difficult to grasp, they unfortunately begin to lose their impact. No matter how important, they just get lost.
Politicians understand this and here are two great examples of how to tell smaller stories.
In the thirties …
The story of the plight of U.S. farmers was difficult for people not raised on farms to understand in the thirties during the Great Depression. to help tell their story in a way that was easier for more people to relate to, President Roosevelt created a federally-funded program, the Farm Security Administration (FSA), to send dozens of photographers and journalists to the south to “uncover” economic collapse there.
A writer, James Agee, and a photographer, Walker Evans, were two that went. When the photos and stories were published in the now-defunct but phenomenally popular magazine called “Life” they stunned Americans with their stark look at the loss of hope. Later Agee wrote Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Illustrated by Evans’ photos, Agee said, “I’ll do what little I can in writing.” This book and those photos brought the pain of those families to light and to life.
Another example of how to tell smaller stories was one Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York, told recently. His press conferences will be studied in communications classes for years to come as examples of how to take a big subject and make it personal.
For instance, last week, he took a page out of FDR’s book by making a story about a farmer’s plight today smaller (only 100 years after the Great Depression and here we are again). He engaged with heart, not the head. You may have already seen this as the story reached many of us through our own version of “Life” magazine, social media.
Cuomo read a letter he received from a farmer in Kansas whose wife has one lung and diabetes. The farmer sent Cuomo an N95 mask to give to a nurse.
“A farmer in Northeast Kansas. His wife has one lung and diabetes. He has five masks. He sends one mask to New York for a doctor or a nurse, keeps four masks. You want to talk about a snapshot of humanity?” Cuomo said. “How beautiful is that. How selfless is that. How giving is that.”
How powerful a story is that.
In our own companies, we might not talk about important global issues in how we connect with our audience, our customers, but we all have our own versions of important but ignored stories. The key to getting people to listen is to make the stories smaller, more human.
Three examples of telling the human story in your message today …
The African importer who is sharing stories of what her artisans are going through in Kenya.
The event venue that became a food bank when the owners learned of the financial hardship of their employees. Read my article on that here.
The small photo opp company that started making boxes of local goods to help companies affected by the Covid virus. (coming soon!)