As a marketing leader, much of your work is dedicated to weaving your organization’s consumer-facing narrative. You know compelling stories can elicit strong emotions, transform your brand’s image, and drive consumer action, which is why you may already employ storytelling as part of your content strategy.
But while a well-crafted case study or heartwarming video may earn your audience’s investment, there’s another way you can leverage storytelling to drive extraordinary results: using organizational storytelling methods in internal communications.
If you want to continue wowing audiences and simultaneously drive much-needed change within your organization, you need to start from within by making storytelling part of your company culture—with everybody in on the conversation.
Here’s how you can begin leveraging stories to transform your business, and why getting it right is so crucial to a company’s success.
It doesn’t matter if you’re addressing potential customers, a boardroom full of executives, or your team during a weekly meeting, you’re still just a human sharing a story with an audience of other humans. And the reasons you use stories as part of your marketing efforts are the same reasons why you should employ storytelling as part of your internal communications.
You probably don’t remember the last statistic you heard, but I’m willing to bet you remember the last story you were told. That’s because we’re more likely to remember something when it evokes an emotional response—and the stronger your response, the longer the memory lasts. In other words, if you want an important message to stick with your team, share it as a story. And if you really want to emphasize a statistic, instead of adding it to an already beefy deck, work the figure into a compelling tale you tell your staff—they’re 22 times more likely to remember it that way.
If you’ve ever stayed up until 2 a.m. to finish a book or binged an entire Netflix series in a weekend, you know good stories can be addictive. They appeal to our curious nature—we can’t tune out until we discover the outcome. So when someone is an especially gifted storyteller, you can’t help but pay attention.
“In today’s attention deficit disordered world, it’s a challenge to communicate and really be heard—to deliver the kind of communication that opens minds, sparks insight, connects people to their own innate wisdom, and inspires them to make a difference in the world,” said Mitchell Ditkoff in an interview for Speaking.com. “That’s what storytelling is all about.”
Image attribution: Joshua Earle
When a story moves you, you’re more inspired to take action. That’s why politicians and televangelists both employ stories: They know people are more likely to reach for their wallets when they are struck by a feeling. Organizational storytelling works the same way—sans the cash collection—it’s an excellent persuasion strategy that helps connect employees to a purpose. And by consistently presenting information in story form, team members will feel more connected to one another and more dedicated to your company’s mission, too.
No shocker: Storytelling doesn’t come naturally to everyone. But, as with most skills, it’s something you can learn, practice, and even perfect over time. And when you adopt storytelling as the method in which your organization communicates internally, it’ll be much easier to translate those skills externally in stories that will captivate audiences.
Here are three things you can do to help make organizational storytelling part of your company’s culture:
Like the Pythagorean Theorem or the Louisiana Purchase, many people have long forgotten Freytag’s Pyramid—the basic structure of a story—and particularly the gravity of using an inciting incident or plot point to hook readers. After all, there’s no story without conflict.
“The audience has to feel the angst of the inciting incident,” explained Skyword Chief Marketing Officer Patricia Travaline. “But then you have to lead them back to the positive and inspire them to take action.”
It’s helpful to start practicing storytelling within your marketing team meetings. Instead of running through a list of performance metrics, storify your data and encourage others to follow your example. This sort of exercise will help your team members focus on presenting only the information most relevant to their audience.
The only thing worse than a PowerPoint chock-full of numbers and complex graphs is when that presentation is shared by an equally dull speaker. But as tedious as this is for the audience, it’s even more disheartening for the presenter. It’s painful to look around a room and meet nothing but glazed-over stares—we’ve all been there.
In most organizations, it’s up to the marketing team to create presentation templates, from sales decks to guides for internal, all-hands meetings. If you want other departments to begin adopting storytelling within their day-to-day communications, create templates for them too which follow a story structure. So long as you make it seamless and simple, people will start sharing messages as stories without even realizing. And once they’ve formed the habit, sharing information as a story will feel like second nature.
For a culture shift to be sustainable, it has to start with leadership. It can be tough to initiate a culture of storytelling when people are accustomed to plugging data into decks or rolling through a laundry list of metrics. But when the CEO begins using compelling stories to relay pertinent information, other leaders within the organization will emulate that style and persuasion strategy.
Of course, addressing the inciting incident story arc through internal communications can be tough, especially when it requires you to admit failure and expose yourself to criticism. But this information is critical to the story and the power of the message. As a leader, showing your vulnerability can be transformative and help others feel more comfortable sharing their missteps. Just make sure you end with a plan for change and a message of hope.
“If you’re not leaving them on a high, then you’re not doing your job,” Travaline said.
As a marketing leader, you know storytelling is one of the most powerful strategies you can use to influence others and effect real change. By making organizational storytelling a central part of your company’s culture and internal communication methods, you can finally tear down the walls between departments, gain buy-in for your mission, and make meetings much more productive. The world’s greatest brands know that telling powerful stories is what will set them apart in the marketplace, inspire their employees, and build connections in a disconnected world.
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Featured image attribution: Priscilla Du Preez