Intending Change: Using Story to Inspire Action


As an actor, Kim Schraf is an authority on how to inspire change. (We watch her transform her audience every time she gets up on stage.) Kim is also a longtime teacher of storytelling; here, she shares how your story can germinate from idea to intention to actionable message.

The need that drives you

All human interaction arises out of fundamental physical and psychological needs. The pursuit of these needs is the basis for our survival, our identity and self-esteem, our instinct to negotiate, persuade, and influence others. We move through the world striving to affect those around us in order to attain what we deem necessary or desirable or beneficial. And we achieve these ends through speech that is shaped by intention.

Intention enlivens text, voice and gesture

Intention not only animates the language, it also infuses the voice with passion and the body with energy. While words on the page can be eloquent, even powerful, spoken text is charged with an immediacy that can ignite a message. The result is a resonance that lingers with the hearer. Think of the truly extraordinary speeches or presentations you’ve heard that changed you profoundly. That transformation was purposeful! The speaker’s intention travelled through the medium of the story to reach and ultimately change what you knew, how you felt, and quite possibly what you were willing to do.

Our brains are wired for story

The most intentional speakers and leaders have figured out that storytelling is a fast track toward engagement of an audience; our brains awaken and respond to a human narrative with invested characters, high stakes, and emotional reversals. The enduring power of myth and folklore is testament to the allure of a hero embarking upon a perilous journey, overcoming obstacles, and emerging triumphant. And for a listener to be a witness to such a journey is exhilarating and empowering.

Change your audience

So to change your audience, you must be as focused on your listeners as on your story. The goal is to shift or change them, to alter what they know, what they feel, and ultimately what they are willing to do. In order to create this change in your audience, you’ll need to infuse your words with a specific intention, such as: 

I want to inflame my listeners’ sense of justice;

I want to forge an alliance with them;

I want to elevate their status or worth;

I want to give them permission to challenge the status quo; or, 

I want to open their eyes to the potential for change.

Once you’ve identified your intention, make it as specific as possible, choosing vivid, personal language. Let it inform your words, your voice, and your body, and you will discover the direct correlation between your commitment to intention and your ability to change your audience. Quite simply, the more specific your intention, the more dynamic the possible shift in your audience.

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