5 storytelling essentials according to NPR's Allison Aubrey

“One man’s trash truly is another man’s treasure.”

NPR correspondent and PBS NewsHour contributor Allison Aubrey framed it best, offering attendees of the Planet Forward Salon on how to tell the story of wasted food five major pieces of advice to help construct inspiring and informative stories that can help drive change.

1. Outrage then inspire

Wall Street Journal reporter Roger Thurow said effective stories all have a common thread: First you outrage, then you inspire. Example: No one cares about landfills filling with wasted produce — until they hear about Timmy from the inner city who goes days without food and walks a mile to get to elementary school at 6 a.m. just for the breakfast program. Meanwhile, pounds of lettuce and plump cauliflower crowd the closest landfill — not because they are inedible but because it doesn’t meet the uniform idyllic standards of retailers for size, color or taste, or because it won’t make it to its final destination in time to still be sellable.

2. Framing of the story depends on the platform

Aubrey has a unique perspective in that she constructs stories for radio, blogs and TV. With new modes of communicating stories like virtual reality and podcasting, the way we tell stories changes, depending on the platform. Blogs and radio require more narrow, nuanced content, while TV can be broader and more dramatic. The way data and statistics are used may be more limited for VR than it would be for a video or article. Think of the audience and the way they will receive the content. It matters.

3. You can’t offer solutions without understanding the problem

Aubrey mentions that when we receive new information, we often assume other people already know the same thing. It is important to remember that people operate with unique biases and often surround themselves with like-minded people. When communicating to an audience, we first must define  explain the situation and We must define our terms and explain the phenomena intelligibly before we can offer solutions and it may take time. In fact, it took several years of food reporting before NPR would even accept an article on food waste solutions.

4. Stories go viral when they are shared

Distribution is also a huge factor in effective storytelling. If no one sees, hears, or reads your story, what’s the point? No longer can journalists keep sources at arm’s length. Today, sources also act as distributors through social media channels. So who you know can make an enormous difference in getting a story told — and digested — by a large audience. Reach out to the food organizations you’ve worked with, call up the food organizations you haven’t. Make connections with local farmers, bloggers, non-profits, businesses, government workers, students, and interest groups, all of whom will like your content and share it.

5. Visual storytelling makes an impact

In order to get eyeballs on your content, visual appeals work better than words. Consumers are scrolling down their Facebook page at a mile a minute so your content has to trigger their curiosity by being outstanding. For example: We know that the amount of food waste generated in a year — 133 billion pounds — that is $161 billion, or enough to fill the Willis Tower 44 times. Show your audience what your story is about; make the data meaningful.    

How do you move the Planet Forward? Tweet us @planet_forward or contribute to the conversation with your own story.