Who doesn’t love a good story?
Yet there is seemingly little place for storytelling as a form of strategic communication. PowerPoint presentations that numb audiences with three-word bullets and stock imagery have become ubiquitous and are the norm of communication in today’s workplace.
We’ve forgotten how to tell stories. More importantly, we’ve forgotten about how a great story can bring people together, create momentum and change things for the better. Marketers commonly use storytelling to promote brand adoption. In the context of employee communication and change management, storytelling can be a powerful tool to affect change in the same way.
Why storytelling; aren’t messages enough?
A strategic communication plan includes well-crafted messages aimed at specific audience segments to address their information needs and motivate them to act.
A great example of storytelling as a means to promote key messages and drive change comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Tips From Former Smokers campaign, a series of vignettes that spotlighted former smokers who share their health burdens from a lifetime of smoking. In graphic detail, the profiled smoker shares their story about living with the long-term health effects of smoking. The key messages in the campaign are similar to past anti-tobacco ads and product labeling. Through storytelling, those same messages are brought to life.
A motivating message wrapped in a story can inspire. Here’s why:
A story is an invitation to share common ground. When your audience identifies with the characters and issues in the story, they begin to accept the cause behind the character’s plight, the urgency of the situation, and become emotionally invested in the outcome.
It’s a way to promote ideas and make them stick. As the audience identifies with the story and its characters, there will be a willingness to consider new ways of thinking and adopt new behavior.
Story welcomes conversation. The character’s journey to resolution – including the process, thinking, and behavior – are ripe with topics for discussion among employees looking for strategies to cope and eventually embrace change.
A story can challenge strongly held beliefs and break down barriers. A story can offer a new perspective, told through one or more characters that audiences can identify with.
It offers a vision for the future. A story is a way of presenting the future state in a way that that can be visualized by each audience member. In short, the end state for a story’s characters have the potential to become the desired state of each audience member.
What makes a good story?
Telling a compelling story is an art that can be mastered by most. A good story – one that influences and motivates audiences – doesn’t have to be an elaborate tale but can be compellingly and succinctly told using a variety of channels and settings, even the banal slide presentation can be transformed into an effective storytelling medium. The power of story comes from how it’s told. As you are crafting yours, be sure to include the following elements:
A hero. People rally around a hero. Heroes lead through change, champion a cause. A compelling hero is identifiable and relatable. Let’s say, for example, you’re implementing a new policy meant to emphasize diversity. An employee or leader who is the driving force behind the policy and represents or personifies the intent of the new policy could serve as the hero character.
A villain. The person or thing standing in the way of achieving the desired end state. This is an opportunity to frame a problem or issue as a living, breathing thing that must be defeated. Be clear about what or who you are battling and why winning is urgent. If the villain prevails, what will it be the alternate future?
A plot. A good story requires a beginning (once upon a time…) with identifiable characters (there was an ordinary person with big dreams…) and an introduction to the conflict (but xyz stood in the way…); a middle where opposing forces battle to achieve two distinct futures; and an end where the decisions and actions of the characters lead to success or failure.
Universal truths. A compelling story touches on principles that an audience can relate to. The need for increased fairness and equity in the workplace, for example, is a corporate value that employees generally agree upon.
Appeals to our emotions. Tapping audiences’ feelings will get them to care about the characters and the outcome of the story. Anger, fear of loss, or joy are examples of emotions that can drive audiences to embrace change and adopt new behavior.
It’s simple. A well-told story is easy to follow and its themes and messages are plainly evident.
It’s relatable. The audience should be able to see themselves in the story, fighting the same battle, behaving the same way, and coming to the same conclusion or lessons.
Be the hero of your next communication initiative by incorporating storytelling into your communication strategy and plan. Let us help you craft your story. To learn more about Collective Insights’ strategic communication offerings go to www.collectiveinsights.com or email Eric Resultan at: firstname.lastname@example.org.