Courtney Spence on How to Tell a More Impactful Emotional Story

In Chapter 10 of 16 in her 2011 Capture Your Flag interview, non-profit founder and executive Courtney Spence answers why being succinct is fundamental to telling more impactful emotional stories. When trying to tell stories of progress using viral media, compact stories work best engaging and inspiring audiences to take action on an issue. Spence is founder and executive director of Students of the World, a non-profit that partners with passionate college students to create new media to highlight global issues and the organizations working to address them. Spence graduated with a BA in History from Duke University.


Erik Michielsen:  Why is being succinct fundamental to communicating an emotional and impactful story?

Courtney Spence:  People have limited time, people don’t have time to sit and watch a 30-minute documentary or a 20-minute documentary, people – the way that we think and the way that we interact to these days is 140 characters on Twitter.  It’s watch this two-minute video that’s just amazing and it makes you cry and forward it onto others.  That’s how the viral world works.  And when you’re trying to impact and tell stories of progress through storytelling, through media, it needs to be emotionally compelling enough to elicit action and, therefore, is impactful. 

To get that, you have to be succinct because if you’re trying to tell every aspect of the story, the ultimate purpose gets lost, the ultimate message gets lost.  It’s so much more powerful to hear, you know, one really incredible story that might be a testimony for the larger vision of the organization than for me to sit down and explain to you every single thing that an organization does because that’s just telling you all of this information that you could go find in an annual report, find on a website.  What I want to show you is the emotional impact, the lives that are changed through, you know, the power of this organization and because you might not have the opportunity to travel to Kenya or travel to Haiti. 

And to tell those stories, it’s really best if you can be as succinct as possible and not try and get caught up in the superfluous details and all these other things that you want to say.  And sometimes there are great aspects of a story but you really have to distill it down into what is the true change that is happening here, and where does, you know, the rubber meet the road, and where is the life that has been changed, and where is that human story that will really inspire other people to take action for this cause whether it’s donating, or voting, or signing a petition.