Last Friday our team spent valuable time out of the office, away from the day-to-day, to talk about storytelling.
I’ll freely admit that come the end of most weeks, I feel knackered more than anything else. But on Friday I felt inspired – to see what we’d planned for a few weeks come to life, and the appetite our people have for using storytelling more in our communications, internal and external.
We talked a lot about the principles of storytelling – and you can read chapter and verse about them elsewhere. The line that will stay with me the longest from our work on Friday is this: “Make me care.” It’s from Andrew Stanton’s excellent TED talk on storytelling – and if you haven’t seen it, I recommend you take 20 minutes of your time, because it’s worth every second. (But maybe not if you’re Scottish and your name’s McGregor…)
How much do your employees care about what they read or watch at work? Internal communications has to fight tooth and nail for their attention – so when you catch it, are you doing enough to keep it? I’ve long believed that the internal materials we produce compete most with what people read or watch in the outside world. So what can we learn from the papers, books and magazines on the news stand, the films we watch or the writing on the web? What is it that they do well, better or best?
I believe good storytelling is part of the answer. And there are opportunities in every organisation to find good stories. Inspirational leaders, great managers, passionate people on the front line, things that go right, things that go wrong. The challenge for communicators is to find the best way and moment to tell them. And in our organisation, there’s no doubt we can do more of it.
The other thing that will stay with me from Friday’s session is this: it isn’t easy. In a lot of cases, it requires courage and a cultural shift for some people to open up in the way you want. It’s one thing to say it’s time to take a different approach but another to actually do it. But when trust in organisations, industries and leaders is under more scrutiny, surely now’s the time to act.
We’ve set ourselves a few simple goals. We’re going to keep sharing great examples of storytelling as inspiration. We started our away day with these and it really set the tone. And we’re going to start, without fanfare, applying what we learned to what we can control – like using less jargon and reviewing our work against some simple guidelines that we’ll build from our discussion. It’s important to turn words into deeds.
So lots more to do, but the best thing is that we’re under way – and no-one needs to make our team care. They do. The prologue’s written and chapter one’s about to begin.
This post is right on the money. Stories are so important.
Besides finding internal stories, I like to find anecdotes and stories from rock music, politics, and entertainment – and relate them back to my audience.
• Stevie Wonder memorised the layout of a Four Seasons Hotel, to trick people into thinking he could see.
• The Rolling Stones would play Popeye the Sailor Man at early gigs because nobody could hear the music.
• John Lennon hated his singing voice. He thought it sounded too thin, and was constantly futzing with vocal effects. That’s why he sounds weird and overdriven on “I Am the Walrus.”
These ‘hooks’ as I call them are pretty flexible – you can use them to get your audience’s attention and then bridge into whatever point you’d like to make.
I actually teach a course showing communicators how to do this – digging up stories from rock memoirs and community sites like Quora and Reddit, and link them back to their audience.
If you’re interested I recorded a short video showing you how to find relevant stories using Amazon’s popular highlight feature.
It’s quite a nice little tool that not many people know about.