4 Steps to Crafting Compelling Case Studies

what's your story

So you’ve got a great case study that shows the impact of your work. But how can you turn it into a story that will really inspire people to support your organisation? Here’s my quick guide.

I’m often asked to deliver workshops on storytelling; helping clients to find their best stories, and to tell them in a way that makes an impact.

Since most of my clients are charities campaigning for positive change, what they’re looking for is storytelling that changes people’s minds by offering them an insight that gives them a reason to care.

In practical terms, that means telling a story in a way that moves a listener from one emotional state (such as concern, sadness, or fear), to another (such as hope, or determination).

Most charities already have ‘case studies’ or ‘ambassadors’ - people who’ve benefited from the charity’s work, and who are open to sharing their own experiences to help it get more support.

But how can you capture these people’s stories and gather the information you need to tell them in a way that creates the emotional shift needed to make a real impact?

Here’s my quick guide.

  1. Consider who’s listening

Think about when and where you’ll be sharing the story, and jot down some answers to these questions:

  • Who will you/your ambassador be talking to?

  • What does the listener think/do now?

  • What do you want them to think/do differently?

  • What can you make them feel that would give them a reason to make that change?

2. Decide on your takeaway message

Complete these template statements to help you figure out what message you want your listener to take away from your story, and what action you want them to take.

  • The situation is like this…. but it could be better, like this….

  • I want my listener to…

Once you have your audience and message in mind, you’ll find this naturally gives a focus to your next steps as you interview your case studies, gather information, and prepare their stories to be told.

3. Plot out the story’s ‘beats’

Novelists, playwrights and screenwriters often talk about stories as having 5 ‘beats’, or stages, through which they move the listener’s emotions from one state to another.

But when interviewing a case study to capture a simple story, you just need to think about three:

  1. Set up: This is how it is.
    Ask: What was the situation the person at the centre of the story found themselves in?

  2. Conflict: This is the obstacle that I/we face
    Ask: What did they want, or want to change, in this situation? What was stopping them getting what they wanted?

  3. Turning point: This is how it could be different
    Ask: How did they overcome that obstacle, or realise what they needed to overcome it, and find hope that it was possible?

4. Build in emotional touchpoints

To help listeners connect with a story and feel motivated to act on it, it’s important to link each ‘beat’ to a memorable, relatable emotional moment in the experience of the person at the centre of the story, and to describe how they felt at that moment.


Theres a strong example here from Stonewall - Jak’s Story:

These are the emotional touchpoints for each ‘beat’ of Jak’s Story.

  • Jak’s set up: When my family found out I was gay, I had to leave home. As well as being homeless, I became really depressed and thought about suicide.

  • Jak’s conflict: My Mum said I could stay if I changed, but I couldn’t face pretending.

  • Jak’s turning point: My school offered me help, showing me that acceptance was possible. This gave me hope and helped me get my life back on track.

Here’s how to find and add the emotional touchpoints to the three beats of your story:

1. For the set up:

Ask the person at the centre of the story to describe, in as much detail as they can, the moment they realised they were in a difficult situation. How did they feel? Can they remember their reaction, either physically or in any conversations they had with others? What did they say?

2. For the conflict

Now ask them to describe how they discovered that there was an obstacle to getting what they needed in that situation. What were their feelings then? What were the first things they thought and did? What did they tell others close to them?

3. For the turning point

Talk to your case study about how they overcame the obstacle, or discovered a way forward. Can they remember their reactions and emotions at the time? What they said to others, and what they did next? How do they feel about their experience now?

If you’ve got answers to all those questions, it’s time to get drafting or scripting - you have everything you need to tell a story that changes minds.

To talk more about how to find and tell powerful stories that inspire your audience, or find out more about my storytelling training sessions, drop me a line.