How to build an inclusive community through conscious storytelling

How do you create a thriving and inclusive community?

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to tease apart the elements of what makes a generative community and also just the intangible experience of belonging.

What does that feel like?

Each time I come back to the feeling of being told or read my favourite stories. Reading or listening to stories made me feel seen, made my experiences feel valid and most importantly made me feel at my most connected to others.

Storytelling is belonging.

And though it isn’t a particularly ground-breaking hot take, I do believe in its intrinsic power to transform and change the world.

That said, storytelling isn’t neutral.

For the longest time, the stories that were told were done so by the same groups of folks telling the same types of stories. Many of those stories perpetuated harmful, problematic and stereotypical narratives. These stories were then prioritized over and over again and intentionally excluded narratives from other voices.

So how does this relate to business and our communities or clients and supporters?

To connect with them in more productive and fruitful ways, we need to be sharing stories that include, affirm and make people feel as though they belong.

We need to become conscious storytellers.

5 things to consider when creating your messaging for your community

#1: Get to know your community

One of the best ways to make sure you’re in community with your clients and supporters is to get to know them. A dominant way of doing this was through more rigid processes like developing a client or even a community avatar.

This doesn’t have to be a rigid process using templates or generators. When thinking about who you’d like to be in a community with, I invite you to consider these questions:

  • Who am I talking to?
  • What values do we share?
  • Why am I the right person to help with what they’re trying to achieve or trying to avoid?

Make sure that you understand what your community needs and why it’s the right community to be a part of. When we as community members feel seen and heard, we feel like we have the tools and support to not only thrive but help others do so, too.

#2: Use inclusive and affirming language

A guaranteed way to discourage people from being part of your community is using exclusive language. After all, words matter. Make sure that you’re using inclusive language.

So what is inclusive language?

It’s language that uses words that do not express discriminatory and stereotypical views or ideas of others.

Why?

It shows your audience that they are welcome and included regardless of who they are.

Language can be used to harm people and using inclusive language is one important way to make sure that you’re creating a safe and affirming space and fostering respectful communication.

Everyone deserves to belong which is why thriving communities use language that’s welcoming.

Want to learn more about inclusive writing? Get my 10 Inclusive Language Writing Tips.

#3: Consider experiences outside of your own

When developing your programming, events, and especially your messaging, make sure you consider experiences outside of your own.

Reality check: Your experience is not the default.

This is especially true when sharing stories about personal successes and overcoming challenges, definitely in your business, but also in your personal life. Personal narratives of success that do not consider privilege, oppression, discrimination, access or any other systemic considerations are problematic and alienating.

If your success is in part due, for example, access to generational wealth, do not leave that context out of your messaging. It is important to tell realistic stories about our personal successes because if people can’t emulate the transformation promised because of systemic factors, that can make them unnecessarily feel like they’ve failed. 

By considering others’ experiences, we can find new ways to help and deliver the transformation(s) they’re looking for.

#4: Share authentic transformations

This tip is essentially an extension of the last one.

When sharing stories about your client or community members’ successes don’t just focus on the ones with the greatest successes. You might be thinking: That’s completely different from the advice I’ve been told and read about regarding social proof.

The reality is that social proof, especially testimonials that often lack the full context, can be manipulative.

Why?

We are rarely told about where folks started (convenient, huh), what outside factors enabled that success, and what was the transformation they wanted to achieve.

When requesting testimonials, make sure to incorporate the context around what the client hoped to get out of the offer/program and if they actually achieved that.

Social proof should absolutely focus on results, when they’re realistic (and sometimes big results are indeed real) but they also have to show that we are making good on providing the promised transformation above any other higher-than-average results.

#5: Tell stories in your own distinct voice

In your storytelling, make sure to use your own distinct voice. It can be tempting to try and emulate the voice of others you really admire, but it can chip away at your own authenticity.

Be careful when using slang and don’t use language that co-opts or appropriates from cultures you do not belong to. Instead, leverage language and words from your own experiences that reflect the way you actually speak.

Read through your emails and text messages to see what shorthand you use. Really dig into what language you use and how you express yourself. You can always check in with those closest to you. Ask them what phrases you use most often. You could even take it further and ask them what are their favourite sayings of yours that you use.

When we speak from our own authentic voice our audience knows we are speaking from a true place and that they can trust what we are saying.

Another important part of honouring our communities is making sure we are honouring ourselves and speaking from our own experiences and showing up as our authentic selves.

And that’s a wrap! Let’s recap

Here are the 5 ways to help you use conscious storytelling to build an inclusive community:

  1. Get to know your community.
  2. Use inclusive and affirming language.
  3. Consider experiences outside of your own.
  4. Share authentic transformations.
  5. Tell stories in your own distinct voice.

Storytelling is a powerful tool and has the most positive impact when used in an inclusive way that honours and celebrates the diverse identities and experiences of our communities.

Article by Nailah King from The Content Witches. Connect with Nailah in the CEC directory.

Banner photo by Vonecia Carswell on Unsplash

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