Seeking support? Consider flaunting your failures to garner good feelings

Are you trying to drum up support for a project you’re working on—monetary or moral?

Whether you’re drafting language for a Kickstarter page, getting ready to make a speech to city council about your new neighborhood initiative, or prepping for the fundraising event you’re throwing at a local school, the way you tell your audience your story can make the difference between their committing support and walking away.

There are countless good tips out there about how to make people sympathetic to your cause—things like opening with a joke, keeping it short, including real-life examples, and giving a call to action.

Another great one is discussing your failures to show the audience that you’re not afraid to admit your mistakes, are okay with being vulnerable, and—most importantly—that you’ve learned from the past and are better prepared to take on the task at hand as a result of previous missteps.

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All eyes on you? Turn the attention from a misstep into heartfelt support.
(photo courtesy Shutterstock)

The failure you choose to highlight could relate directly to your current idea, or not.

For example, if you’re trying for the third time to start an after-school art program in your neighborhood, you can explain what you’ve learned from your first two attempts, and how that knowledge makes your plan uniquely equipped to succeed this time.

Or, if you haven’t failed at this particular endeavor before, try dredging up an experience from high school or your first job that relates—maybe you learned the hard way to ask for help when you need it, or to speak up when you see something amiss around you.

Whatever story you choose, here are a few pointers about how to tell great fail tales in print and in person from Brooklyn, New York writer, performer, and storytelling coach Andrew Linderman:

For many people (myself included), the only thing scarier than failing is talking about failure. Maybe you’ve hit a parked cop car, peed your pants in front of the high school rowing team or cried in front of a group of Chinese school children*. Whatever the case, you’ve probably failed a few times in your life.

To help you tell stories about screw-ups, shortcomings and unfortunate incidents without coming across as a bitter shrew or a total moron, follow these rules and you’ll be able to talk about failure without looking like one.

1. Don’t pass judgment.

The point of storytelling is to recreate an experience for your audience, so avoid passing judgment about any of the characters (yourself included!) in the story. The easiest way to do this is to eliminate comparatives (i.e. “better”, “worse”, “faster”, etc) and superlatives (i.e. “worst”, “best”, “fastest”) whenever possible. Instead, turn these comparisons into declarative statements (from “the best shot putter in Brooklyn” to “the #3 shot putter in the 18-22 age cohort in Brooklyn”). Specificity will help your story while making the narrator (you) more relatable.

2. Avoid complex explanations.

If you’re talking about failure, it’s natural to want to explain away a decision through your own interpretive lens. Don’t do this. People love stories about a good flop, so don’t cheat them of the experience. One quick way to cut down interpretation is to eliminate explanatory words (“because”, “why”, “knew”, “understood”, “decided”, “realized”) from your story. Don’t tell an audience why something is important, show them how it is important.

3. Show (don’t tell!) us your emotions.

Stories are filled with emotions and feelings, but manipulating your audience into feeling a particular way won’t help them relate to your experience. Skip emotive words (i.e. “happy”, “sad”, “excited”, “worried”) in favor of active phrases (“I smiled and screamed: “Awesome!”) that show the audience how you’re feeling. When you spend the time to recreate an experience, the emotions will shine through.

It takes time to tell stories about failure, but if you use these tips, you’ll be able to get over life’s hurdles faster and tell richer stories in the process. In the words of Samuel Beckett: “Try again. Fail again. Fail Better.”

*All of these things happened to me

See Andrew’s original post in its entirety on his blog The Story Source, and read more about all the ways he helps people tell better stories on his website, www.andrewlinderman.com.

Have you ever told a story about a time you flopped to try to engage potential supporters? Tell us how it went!

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Once upon a hack: Socially conscious storytelling event in NYC

From the “two great things that go great together” file:

In New York City the weekend of October 5 and 6, changemakers with stories to broadcast and creative storytellers with a penchant for social impact will join forces for the first Re3 Storyhack.

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Some of the issues participants in next weekend’s hackathon intend to tackle.

According to their (very pretty) website:

We’re asking changemakers to propose specific stories relating to complex issues like economic fairness, climate change, educational opportunity, and many more.

We’re offering creative storytellers the chance to choose one of ten selected stories and work with top-notch teammates. Over the Re3 StoryHack weekend, we will innovate new ways of thinking and communicating these stories in language; written, visualized, performed, coded and more.

Piquing your interest? Early birds have snapped up all the storyteller spots, but you can still get the scoop on nominating your changemaking story—and have a read about the people and process behind Re3—on their website.

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Why fear is another form of storytelling – and what it can teach us

Fear of doing harm. Fear of rejection. Fear of being seen as wrong or crazy. Fear of failure. Fear of success.

These are just some of the fears that have prevented people in the Idealist community from acting on their intentions. But it doesn’t always have to be an obstacle. If wielded correctly, fear can propel us to do amazing things.

In this TED talk, author Karen Thompson Walker encourages us to see fear not as a weakness or danger, but something that fuels our imaginations.

“Fear is… a kind of unintentional storytelling we’ll all born knowing how to do,“ she says. By thinking of fear as part of the narrative of our lives, we are better able to imagine our future and take the necessary steps toward action.

We’d love to know: How how have you turned fear on its head to help you in your journey to better your community?

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Take professional development into your own hands

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How will you carve out time to learn and reflect? Photo: US Army (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Need professional development, but don’t have a budget for travel or tuition? Here are a bunch of free or relatively affordable upcoming trainings we’ve spotted recently – ones you can join from the comfort of your own desk or couch.

Special thanks to Ben Hastil for his contributions to this roundup.

Telling your organization’s story

Show me the money

  • Grantseeking basics, fundraising planning, nonprofit sustainability…find trainings in these topics and more at your nearest Foundation Center.

Social media

  • Social Media for Social Good events: Heather Mansfield of DIOSA Communications and Nonprofit Tech 2.0 has lined up one-day intensive social media trainings in conjunction with the launch of her book. They aren’t free, but they do benefit local nonprofits in the host cities.

Become a better manager

  • The Management Center’s upcoming “Managing to Change the World” trainings are sold out, but you can access tons of free worksheets to strengthen your delegation skills, hiring practices, organizational culture, and more.
Dig out of debt
  • This might fit better under “personal” than “professional” development, but hey – lots of us have loans to pay, and I’d bet that those take a toll on our overall morale, and thus our work performance. If your new year’s resolution was to conquer your student loans, check out Heather Jarvis and her resources for Public Service Loan Forgiveness in Five Easy Steps.
What else is on your radar?
Of course, attending conferences or more intensive trainings and retreats can also be a way to deepen your skills and knowledge. And after you take advantage of any opportunities like these, it’s important to make space to reflect on how you’ll implement your new skills, as New Organizing Institute pointed out recently.
What do you plan to do in 2012 to ensure you are growing as a professional?

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Cheap or free trainings this fall, from diversity to data

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What webinars are on your calendar this fall? Leave a comment to let us know. (Photo: Mark Hillary, Flickr/Creative Commons)

Need professional development, but don’t have a budget for travel or tuition? Here’s a roundup of some free or relatively affordable trainings I’ve spotted recently – ones you can join from the comfort of your own desk or couch.

Deepen your storytelling skills

When: October 5, 3:00-4:00pm EST/12:00-1:00pm PST

What: Craigslist Foundation will host a “campfire conversation” conference call with Joe Lambert, founder and director of the Center for Digital Storytelling. It’s free for Craigslist Boot Camp participants and $5 for others.

More info and RSVP: http://ht.ly/6Cp3E

Use data to drive your decisions

When: October 6, 1:00-2:30pm EST/10:00-11:30am PST

Guidestar will host a free webinar on The Seven Steps for Data-Driven Decision Making with Sacha Litman, founder and principal consultant of Measuring Success. It’s free.

More info and RSVP: click here.

Working in study abroad or intercultural communication

Small Planet Studio recently tweeted about several upcoming trainings for people who want to work in international education, intercultural training, or consulting. Explore their menu of offerings here.

Volunteer management, social media, online donations, diversity, and more…

The folks at Idealware have a range of offerings this fall, from $40 trainings on how to choose donor and volunteer management systems to free eLearning sessions on Facebook, Twitter, and the “technology pyramid.” Explore the options at http://idealware.org/online-training.

And of course there’s always NTEN, the Nonprofit Technology Network. In October alone, they’re hosting a dozen events ranging from Diversifying Your Office Culture to Beyond Apps: Mobile for Nonprofits. Prices vary, and it helps if your organization has an NTEN membership. Read more at http://www.nten.org/events.

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