Speaking from experience – telling your story

17 May 2021  |  Insights
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“I am seeking a mum who has an adult child back living with them.”

“We are looking to film with someone who relies on adult social care.”

“We would like to interview someone who has recently been diagnosed with diabetes.”

These are just a few of the many media requests I’ve received this week from national media keen to find someone who is willing to tell their story.

They’re asking because they know that a case study will elevate their news piece from a relatively dry report on the latest statistics or trends, to a story that demands attention.

Think about the story that most affected you recently. Perhaps it was seeing the child of an Indian Covid patient weeping in desperation because they couldn’t get oxygen for their dying parent. Maybe it was hearing the tremble in a young woman’s voice as she described how internet trolling made her feel that her life wasn’t worth living.

These stories pull you in, engage your emotions, encourage empathy with the person involved and are much more likely to make you want to do something about it – donate to a cause, sign a petition, or change the way you treat people.

So if you want to get media interest in an issue or encourage support for your cause, sharing your personal story is one of the most effective ways to do it. But how do you know if a journalist will be interested?

1. It’s emotional. Whether it’s shocking, hilarious or tragic, a really good personal story will have an emotional impact that makes people pay attention. When that emotion is pain or embarrassment, it can sometimes be difficult to talk about, so you should be willing to discuss things that might be uncomfortable – or agree beforehand where the boundaries are. Always be aware that once your story is published, it is public – you (and those your story impacts) have to be comfortable with that before you share with media.

2. It’s easy to understand. We all know that life isn’t simple, but more often than not the media only have a couple of minutes to tell the story, so it’s important to speak clearly and stick to the main points.

3. It’s relatable. Putting a face to a story helps people to identify with it, so ideally, you should be happy to share your photograph or be interviewed on camera – though the media will still consider sharing anonymous stories from vulnerable people.

4. It’s relevant. As you can see by the requests above, journalists are often interested in personal stories that illustrate a topical issue, from mental health week to budget cuts. Different media have different audiences and will only consider case studies that fit in with their specific criteria; for example, they might only want to speak to women in the UK over the age of 50, so you need to be sure that your story fits the bill.

When you’re telling your own story, it’s relatively easy to decide whether you’re comfortable with what the journalist is looking for. But if you’re working for a charity or organisation that wants to share a beneficiary’s story, you’ve also got to consider your responsibility to them and if telling their story is the right move for both them and your organisation.

Next week, I’ll share some tips for what to consider when sharing a beneficiary’s story with the media.

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