Whether you are raising awareness or lobbying for a change in the law, one of the most important assets advocacy groups have is the stories of the patients they serve.
People relate to people so sharing real-life experience can be powerful – one good case study can build more empathy and understanding than a whole ream of graphs, facts and figures.
As an industry, we know this is true. It’s why we raise awareness with press case studies, introduce politicians to campaigners who know the subject firsthand, and base patient education materials on lived experience.
But are we making the best use of the stories patients entrust us with? Here are our three top tips for telling stories that resonate.
1. Ask the right questions
A case study is only as good as the material it is based on so make sure you collect all the necessary details before you start out.
It’s usually best to do this either face-to-face or over the telephone. People write differently to how they speak, so if you send your case study questions by email, they may overthink their replies and provide stilted or incomplete replies.
Don’t think of it as “interviewing” someone, rather having a conversation about their experience. Make them feel comfortable and show them you are interested in what they are saying.
It can help to have a list of questions to refer to, but you don’t have to stick to it rigidly. If they offer you an interesting aside, follow it up, just as you would in real life. You might discover a golden nugget of information that might take the story in a whole new direction.
Remember, a good case study is one that people can connect with, so you need to make the subject sound “human.” That means finding out about their family, their occupations, their hobbies and their pets.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If they have agreed to tell their story it’s probably because they are just as keen as you are to make a difference.
2. Don’t bury the good stuff
There’s a lot of content out there competing for the attention of your target audience so make sure you hold their attention from the off.
Before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) ask yourself: “what is the most engaging part of this story?”. Then put that in the first sentence.
Think about what piqued your interest in the story in the first place and see if you can sum it up in couple of sentences.
Don’t be tempted to “set the scene” with the background: by the time you get to the good stuff, you may have lost half your readers.
This is especially true of press releases. Journalists are always on the lookout for a good human-interest story, but they receive hundreds of press releases every week.
Put the strongest, human angle in the first line of your release to capture their attention before they move onto the next one.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t include all the relevant facts and figures, just remember that the focus of the story is the person.
3. Be real
One mistake organizations sometimes make is using rigid or sanitized quotes in case studies. But if it doesn’t sound “real” it won’t resonate.
There can be a temptation to craft every sentence in a quest for grammatical excellence, but as a general rule of thumb, if it doesn’t sound like something someone would say, don’t use it.
That means keeping colloquialisms and turns of phrase that remind the reader that it’s a human story.
Don’t be afraid to be emotive but try not to rely on flowery or sentimental language. It can detract from the story and make it harder to read. If it’s a strong enough case study, it won’t need embellishments.
It is true that we are living in a world of infinite content, and that means your messages have never had so much competition to get out there in the big wide world.
However, the trick is not to shout louder, but to write smarter. People will always want to find out about each other’s experiences, so by keeping the “human” in “human interest” you can’t go wrong.