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Ann Christiano

Ann Christiano

Telling stories like you mean it is one of Ann Christiano’s eight imperatives for social change communications.

In her workshop last week at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Ann talked about several stories to keep in your organization’s story bank.

The story of how we started, the story of how we’re making a difference, the story of our people, the story of what the world would look like if we succeed with our mission, and even the story of a defeat in our work–all of these are essential stories to keep close at hand to whip out when the situation is right.

Much like you, I know some of these stories about my organization, but I need to spend some time brainstorming with my colleagues to dig deep, exchange stories, and together, record them in a story bank. Then we need to make sure our entire staff and board have access to these treasures.

Stories keep us emotionally connected, and if well-told, are memorable.

Here are Ann’s other seven imperatives for social change communications:

  • Stop telling people what you do and tell them why you do it.
  • Become strategically empathetic. Empathy is the ability to share and understand feelings of another. In your communications, try evoking empathy for those you serve or empathy for your audience. Don’t forget about how you might inspire others’ empathy.
  • Communicate in pictures. Even when you can’t use photographs or video, you can use descriptive language to create a visual image. Remember MLK’s incredible speeches? They are filled with visualizations that made his words even more powerful.
  • Use the full palette of emotions as you communicate.  Have you considered evoking frustration? Using humor? What about surprise? Be deliberate with the use of emotion and experiment beyond the use of guilt as you are trying to stimulate action.
  • Create a call to action that is actionable and that advances your causes. “General awareness” is no good. What do you want people to do? Are you making it easy to understand the call to action? Will that call to action get you closer to your goal?
  • Make your messages portable and shareable because every person you communicate with is part of a larger network. Yes, just yes.
  • Stop obsessing about whether other people are as passionate about your mission as you are. Get used to it. Often people will act on your organization’s behalf without having the same level of passion or urgency as you do.

How many can you integrate into your existing messaging?


Ann Christiano is the Frank Karel Chair in Public Interest Communications at the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications. Her role is to develop a curriculum in the newly emerging discipline of public interest communications, which uses the tools of public relations and journalism to create positive social change.

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