The Development Source
April 27th was National Tell a Story Day. What, you may ask, is the connection between National Tell a Story Day and proposals? A great deal, at least from my perspective.
Throughout human history, people have told stories – in short stories, poems, novels, over dinner, and over the backyard fence. Stories are universal because we use stories to create meaning. When you cite a statistic or make an argument, often your listener’s eyes glaze over. But when you tell a good story, you engage, entertainment, and make a point.
Although grant and RFP guidelines often make sustained storytelling difficult in proposals, there are always opportunities to your stories or anecdotes to make your argument. When you tell stories in proposals, you engage reviewers just as you do when you chat in a bus or talk with friends over dinner.
I recommend that you follow these six tips for telling better stories in your proposals. They are based on a recent Grammerly post on “Storytelling 101” that appeared in the May 5, 2014 HuffingtonPost.
Show, Don’t Tell. This is the advice all students receive in creative writing classes, and it is worth heeding. Don’t just tell the reviewer what to think – paint a vivid picture through a good story and your point will be richer and more impactful.
Be Specific. Engaging stories provide their readers with vivid details. Most of our proposals drown reviewers with plenty of details, but they are rarely vivid. Tell a good story in your proposal by providing rich details to make your point come alive.
Engage the senses. In your proposals, tell stories that engage all the senses. Of course, your focus will be primarily visual (descriptions) but try to include the others. Make a point and be as vivid as possible without becoming florid.
Be concise. Reviewers are harried, feel pressed for time, and may not know too much about the topic of your proposal. Cut out unnecessary words, avoid repetition, and get to the point quickly. Your distracted reviewers will appreciate it.
Cut out most of the adverbs and be sparing with adjectives. Don’t reply too much on words that end with “ly” (adverbs) or modifiers (adjectives).
Proofread. Nothing destroys confidence in a story or a proposal like too many typos and grammatical errors. Proofread carefully. Better yet, get someone else to proof your prose.
Stories can engage easily distracted and busy reviewers. Use them well, and your proposals will become more compelling.