Strategic storytelling is a powerful advocacy tool you can utilize to raise awareness, highlight issues, and call for action. You can strategically tell your story to motivate different stakeholders, including policymakers, to implement or improve policies for communities and create equitable outcomes. It’s a great way to provide supportive evidence for a change that you hope to accomplish. For example, if you’re advocating on behalf of extension of care, you could use your experience after exiting care to provide a more concrete idea of why this is a good idea to have in legislation. Surely, with storytelling being an excellent idea to help push for change, there isn’t much that can go wrong, correct? You would be surprised at the number of things that could go wrong when telling your story without the proper guidance or pointers.
You may be wondering, “What are some things I should keep in mind when I’m sharing my story?” Dependent on who you ask, the answer may vary. In many strategic sharing trainings, I always have said that it’s important to outline what you plan to speak on. In this post, I will share tips and tricks I’ve picked up over my many years of advocacy that have helped me to protect my story as well as others who may be indirectly affected by my story. Also, I welcome discussion around other pointers that may have helped you in your storytelling.
1. Create a plan. About 10 years ago, during my first advocacy training, the biggest lesson I learned was that you need to have a plan to share your story strategically. To achieve this plan, you need to ask yourself some of the following questions: Who is your audience? How will they benefit from hearing your story? What elements are you hoping will resonate with your audience? What specific issues are you advocating for, and what is your call to action to your audience? The advantage of planning ahead and using these guiding questions is that you can minimize risks such as oversharing personal information that can retraumatize you. In addition, you can protect yourself while still reaching your audience effectively with the most useful information to bring attention to an issue and provide solutions.
2. Know your traffic light. Knowing your traffic light was a helpful tool I learned during a refresher training of strategic sharing; this entails having a table (you could also utilize an actual graphic of a traffic light if it’s easier) with a red, yellow, and green section. In this table, you would populate different parts of your story. Red would be topics that are triggers for you or others who may be part of the same panel or speaking opportunity. Yellow would be topics that you feel comfortable sharing but would rather keep to yourself or would have to put some things in place for the purposes of self-care. Finally, your green topics would be things you’re comfortable sharing no matter what setting you’re in. Now, these topics may shift colors depending on your audience. For example, you may share more or less of your story when talking with other people with lived experience in foster care, foster parents, service providers, politicians, community leaders, news reporters, etc.
3. Identify your audience. This one is pivotal for tailoring what you will be sharing. As I mentioned with your traffic light, your story may sound different or be told differently depending on who you are speaking to. For example, suppose you’re advocating for more services to be put into effect for transition-age youth to a group of state legislators. In that case, you may want to include more specific examples of your experiences with transitioning out of care then if you were speaking to a room of youth in care.
4. Assess the alignment of your personal goals and goals of the event. As advocates, we often are asked to share our stories to push an agenda forward. If you’ve dealt with aging out of care, you may be asked to share your story around what your struggles were when you were transitioning. Often, we see this as an opportunity to just shed light on some of the things that happen behind closed doors, but sometimes the goal of the event won’t align with your ultimate goal of sharing your story. It’s important to always think about the desired results of the panel, conference, etc., and how you can align their goals with your own.
5. Create a self-care plan. I would say that this is the most important one to have in place in deciding to share your story. Even if you’ve been sharing the same version of your story for years, sometimes we get triggered by some of the simplest things. One of the things I enjoy having in place as my self-care routine after an advocacy opportunity includes comfort food, snuggling up with my kids, watching Peter Pan, and just being able to appreciate the little things. I will often talk over with my husband about how, despite my experience in care, I am thankful for where I am today because of the people I surround myself with.
Blanca Goetz is an advocate from Rhode Island and holds a dual role as a young parent leader and faculty member for the national Youth Power, Parent Power team. The Youth Power, Parent Power initiative partners with expectant and parenting youth to transform standards of care across public systems and communities so that they can succeed and thrive.