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Want to delight your people? Engage them with a story

Jade Tipping

This blog is part one of a two-part series on ‘storytelling.’ In this blog we discuss the benefits of storytelling and how effective communicators are increasingly using stories to get their messages across. In our next blog we will explore a real-life situation, recently led by Sysdoc.

‘If you want to engage an audience, you have to tell a story – but for most people who prepare presentations, storytelling is not top of mind.’ (1)

Business isn’t really about numbers, profit, cash flow or dividend rates. The numbers are by-products.

Business is about people and emotion – this is an essential truth.

Robin Ridgley, Capability Lead Sysdoc People and Culture writes:

Most companies explicitly value ‘hard’ knowledge that can be classified, categorised, calculated, and analysed. In contrast storytelling employs ancient means of passing wisdom and culture through informal stories.

Storytelling is a key ingredient to make ideas and complex information stick. It’s a critical element in helping people to think differently, feel differently and most importantly behave differently.’ (2)

 Storytelling is the most historic, ancient way we have shared knowledge for millennia. Communication tools are rapidly evolving yet we still consume and enjoy stories in the same way we always have, by following a narrative.

A story is a series of events that can be told though words, pictures, sounds and physical movement. It has themes, attention-grabbing moments, protagonists and antagonists, all leading towards a satisfying conclusion. Beautifully designed slides cannot compensate for a poorly constructed story, nor is a bulleted list a story on its own.

  • Every company has its own story.
  • Every function, team and role have stories to tell.
  • Every meeting and presentation (even watercooler chat) we give is a story.

The technique of storytelling, the art of crafting compelling stories, helps build emotional engagement which can reduce resistance and create urgency, including for any business change.

Stories are accessible.

  • Lots of different people can re-tell stories without having to remember all the details, facts, and statistics, yet can still convey the key message.
  • They don’t depend on technology or PowerPoint to tell them.

Stories promote ownership.

  • They engage emotions.
  • People can put their own spin on them – this gives an increased sense of ownership over the story.

Stories will already exist within the company - they are the myths and legends of what has gone before. So, for those that use storytelling, it is a great way to spread the word about change, motivate or to promote a company’s core values.

Ferguson, Missouri is a town known for the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer in 2014. It was not an obvious place to open a café selling expensive coffee.

The chances of young people getting employment in the town were slim and there were many destructive riots across Ferguson following Michael’s death. Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks commented on what he witnessed when he visited Ferguson. He said:

‘We are absent from this community and not only are we absent, but we have a responsibility to be there.’

People felt there was a disconnect between Starbucks’ brands values and the nature of the community – but Schulz opened the coffee shop – choosing to act in line with the company’s core values as part of their ‘social impact’ agenda, boosting jobs and welfare in poorer areas. The story has become part of the folklore of the company. (3)

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Research has shown that audiences are more likely to engage with and adopt messages that make them feel personally involved by triggering an emotional response. And storytelling, with all its excitement and suspense, is a great way to achieve this:

  • American psychologist, Jerome Bruner, found that audiences are 22 times more likely to remember a fact if it is part of a story.
  • Numerous studies have shown that the power of a compelling and well-constructed narrative is a highly effective motivator of voluntary cooperation. (4)
  • Sysdoc started an internal fundraising campaign for the DEC Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal. A Sysdocer shared the story of their personal connection to Ukraine. Within two weeks, donations doubled, and we reached our £2,000 target. 

So, here are some examples of the kinds of stories companies can share:

Stories that explain your ‘why’The most important part of creating a compelling story is understanding your ‘why’ - the purpose, cause, or belief.

Stories of triumphAchievement of goals, and good work completed.

Stories of tensionConflicts of values, loyalties, or obligations.

Stories of tragedyEvents leading to unfortunate or inescapable endings.

Stories of transition‘Coming of age’ style stories about the life of the business.

As storytellers can engage an audience and move them to action, understanding the difference between ‘presenting’ and storytelling can mark out communicators as leaders.

Storytelling is an essential leadership skill in a changing world - where effective communication is at a premium. There are key differences between presenters and effective communicators:

  • Presenters open PowerPoint – but the most effective communicators craft a narrative.
  • Presenters talk in terms of data – but the most effective communicators talk in terms of story – movement and flow.
  • Presenters practice by going through their slides silently – the most effective communicators practice out loud – and practice their delivery to get maximum impact.

In our next blog on storytelling, we will discuss a case study that Sysdoc recently led.

 

  1. What the best Presenters do Differently, Carmine Gallo, Harvard Business Review, 27 April 2022
  2. Robin Ridgley, Capability Lead Sysdoc People and Culture, LinkedIn
  3. See, Story Driven, Bernadette Jiwa and Four Years After Michael Brown was Shot, Washington Post, 15 June 2018
  4. See, Five Principles for Great Brand Storytelling, PR Week, 14 June 2022

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