Tell better stories faster: 3 tips from the Techfugees Summit


What happened when Sookio crossed the channel to share wisdom with a growing movement of tech-for-good hacktivists? Our Chief Copywriter headed to Paris for the Techfugees Global Summit, running a communications workshop geared towards effective storytelling.

I get ants in my pants whenever I’m out of the UK. Without the English language I’m left with not much, I certainly can’t get by on my looks.

But here’s the thing: when I leave the warmth of my sceptred comfort zone, it’s by choice. Tens of millions of people around the world aren’t as lucky.

Sookio is partnered with Techfugees, an NGO who provide digital solutions to the growing global refugee crisis. As well as pitching in with communications support, it was my honour to be invited to their Global Summit in Paris to run a workshop on digital content.

Despite my phobia of the Paris Metro (what’s with those scrolly wheel things on the ticket machines?!) I had the time of my life. From climate change to the role of the private sector, no topic was out of bounds, with some incredible, energised speakers giving their perspective on issues driving migration and displacement.

Quite the tough act to follow. So how did my humble contribution measure up?

Give your audience some space

First and foremost, Techfugees is a network, a collective of volunteers contributing their tech skills to the cause.

That means enthusiasm and digital know-how abound, but time and resources can be scarce, especially when it comes to getting their story out there (a familiar tale to anyone who’s ever had to bootstrap a startup).

To combat this, my workshop was built around effective online storytelling, making the format and structure of web content work as hard as possible. To create effective content on a budget, I recommend taking the time to nail two things:

  • Getting some distance from your audience

  • Crafting a strong, distinctive tone of voice

Distance from your audience means bearing in mind that you are not them. Don’t fall into thinking everyone knows what you know and is interested in the same things as you. If you and your audience were on a total level pegging, there’d be no need to tell them anything.

Instead, design your content as a transaction. You have something they want; data, opinion, or a great project to get involved with. They have something you want; support or potentially even investment.

As communicators, it’s our job to make that transaction as mutually beneficial, as good a deal as possible.

You don’t even have to be subtle. This stroke of genius from Oasis lays it out plain as day:

Also remember the effect of being totally immersed in your subject matter. Something that’s old hat to you might, to the uninitiated, be a perfect introduction to the project. Likewise, the cutting edge of the tech you’re working with is probably very interesting to you, but completely over the head of the layman.

Take a step back, have someone else read over your content. Collar a friend or family member with no involvement and ask them if your latest blog or social media post is both informative and engaging to them.

Apple nail this. The iPhone is developed by some of the keenest minds on the planet who are, no doubt, excited by some very niche developments in the world of tech. Meanwhile, all you and I need to know is that it’s got a big screen:

Nailing your tone of voice is critical to the early stages of getting your message out. It’s tempting to just start producing content and see what sticks, but trust me. It’s easier to decide who you are now than once you’ve grown and need to coordinate with bigger teams across multiple sites.

Knowing your tone of voice from day one imbues your communications with:

  • Consistency (I recognise this person)

  • Character (I like this person)

  • Authority (I trust this person)

It’s a bit artsy-fartsy, but I like to imagine a project as a human being. How do they dress? What music do they listen to? Even better, what do they read? Decide that and you’ve instantly netted yourself a solid grasp of the kind of language that best captures a project’s persona, and what language to avoid.

With some brands, it’s almost too easy:

Crafting the conversation

Then someone put their hand up and asked, ‘hey, don’t those two key points completely contradict one another?’

And I was all like, ‘eh?’

And they were all like, ‘yeah… you’re telling us to craft stories for the audience, not for us, but also to spend loads of time deciding who we are and what we sound like?’

Of course, they were 100% correct. I’d gone and made the exact mistake I was telling people not to make.

It’s no good taking the time to profile your own brand persona if you’re not doing the same thing for your target audience. I would, of course, have mentioned that if I wasn’t too close to the subject matter and assuming people could read my mind. At least they were definitely paying attention, right?

Getting a sense of who you’re talking to (I hastily clarified) is great. It lets you craft that conversation, that transaction I was talking about. But this can get as granular as you have the time to devote to it.

Sure, you’ll have one overarching audience profile, those who respond best to your project’s raison d'être. But will that audience respond the same whether you’re communicating via a blog or a Facebook Live? If not, are they actually two audiences with two separate personas?

Here’s where you need to balance your time. Using limited resources as efficiently as possible begins with proper strategy, but crafting a dozen different audience profiles for various channels, methods, and mediums (as well as your own tone of voice guidance) can eat into time you’d otherwise spend actually creating content.

Set yourself limits. Focus on a handful of targets, craft conversations which will win them over rather than taking a scattergun approach to please everyone. Strategy is a toolkit, how you apply it is up to you, and you know what’s best for your project and audience.

I’m hugely indebted to the Techfugees team for the invite, for the incredible event, for the amazing people I met, and for keeping me on my toes!

Want to talk strategy, training, or content creation with Sookio? Get in touch and let’s get started.