Addressing U of T’s June convocation some years ago, University Professor Emeritus Ted Chamberlin asked rhetorically, what do universities really do? His answer captured U of T’s essence beautifully: “We tell stories,” he said, “old stories about evolution and the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, about the Big Bang and the Great War, about justice and freedom, supply and demand, economy and efficiency. And we make up new stories. We call the old ones teaching, and the new ones research.”
Storytelling, in other words, is at the heart of everything we do at this University. As advancement communicators, our role is to share U of T’s stories with the world. This is a great privilege and responsibility. When we are able to tell these stories with vigour, clarity, precision and emotion, we not only illuminate U of T’s work, we also give our audiences reasons to care about it.
Every campus, college, faculty and department has great stories to tell. The best stories convey our impact and defining characteristics, and how together U of T is greater than the sum of its parts. They emphasize the bold, boundary-crossing nature of our research and teaching. They show how we are breaking down barriers among disciplines to arrive at new insights and achieve new breakthroughs. Where possible, our stories should also demonstrate our global relevance and the many ways in which our students, faculty and alumni are having a positive impact on communities around the world. They should exude an “only at U of T” quality that clearly differentiates us from other institutions.
We tell our stories through a variety of channels, from events to digital, social and print media. At our events, we are able to tell U of T’s story to our audiences in an immediate and experiential way through inspiring speeches, multimedia presentations, video and print material. Through our social media, print and digital channels, we are able to deliver our message to even greater numbers of people. However, regardless of the channel, all of our stories should be targeted, thoughtful and compelling, and consistently convey the qualities that make our University boundless.
Tone and Manner
When we speak and write for U of T, what we say matters. How we say it is equally important. We should tell our stories in a manner that is free of hyperbole or bafflegab. Our tone should be clear and confident. Intelligent but not didactic. Conversational but not chatty. Emotional but not sentimental. We want to inspire our audiences, but we also want to win their trust. We should not avoid mentioning our accomplishments and aspirations, but we must speak of them in a way that is relatable and compelling
Focus on Impact
Our readers, we must assume, are busy people. We may only have a few seconds to make an impression. Let’s try to stir their interest right away, so they will read on or listen to what we have to say. Let’s avoid starting with a long preamble or burying the crux of what we’re trying to say in paragraph five or six. Let’s get to the point.
Demonstrating impact is a must. Even though an audience may be receptive to our message, we should assume that they need to be convinced. Let’s describe the significance of our work vividly, and always explain what it means for our reader and society.