Storytelling for internal communicators

If you’re like me and love a good story, you’ll be looking forward to National Storytelling Week – 26 January to 2 February.  It’s a great reminder for those of us in the internal comms profession to sharpen our pencils and use this age-old practice to build a connected, engaged and purposeful organisation.

I’m a born storyteller, in and out of work, so I’m really lucky to be in a position where I can do something I love to help my clients.

If you’re not a natural storyteller, don’t worry, there is masses of help out there if you need it, such as this great blog from Celine Da Costa, which explains why every business needs powerful storytelling to grow or these 10 tips to transform your storytelling from Rachel Miller at All Things IC.

The Society for Storytelling (SFS) is another great resource, with over 200 storytellers in their directory and a wealth of factsheets to help you tell your story, plan a storytelling event or just promote the wonderful world of stories as a way of connecting people in your business.

The theory behind the story

Storytelling and leadership involve as much doing as thinking, according to Steve Denning, best-selling author of ‘The Springboard’ and ‘The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling’. He believes most of the valuable stories in organisations don’t fit the pattern of a well-made story, and there are many different approaches available to us.

In his article for the IoIC (Institute of Internal Communication) ‘Why Does Storytelling work for Comms?’, business psychologist Andy Gibson, explains how storytelling works because of our lack of memory. “Essentially we have limited slots in our working memories,” he explains. “Whenever we’re trying to take in new information, if we’re hit with too many things to remember simultaneously, we can’t remember it all. Stories are a way of ‘chunking’ that information. They’re a way of joining together different elements into one single chunk or sequence so we can remember the whole thing.”

Stories are the thread that hold an organisation together

Stories connect us by helping to build trust through shared understanding and values, they help to provide meaning and context. As internal communicators we must know and understand our different audience groups and help them make sense of the ever-increasing ‘noise’ inside (and outside) their workplace; storytelling is one way to do this.

Storytelling features strongly as one of the four enablers in Engage for Success, a 2009 report for Government. The report authors, David MacLeod and Nita Clarke, found that organisations with a compelling and authentic strategic narrative, provided by leaders who are empowering and visible, generally resulted in high levels of employee engagement and high levels of performance. But a white paper from people management consultancy The Pioneers challenges this and questions whether the company story is “too remote, intangible and detached from how the majority of people see and experience their world and challenges whether businesses are investing enough time in developing the storytelling skills of their leaders”.

The power of stories

Storytelling is something we all do instinctively, every day. In fact we’ve been doing it since time began as an essential part of how we communicate. By sharing stories we connect with people who are in a similar situation, or who have similar beliefs, needs or preferences.  

Chief Executive of the Institute of Internal Communication, Jennifer Sproul, explains why storytelling is so important for internal communicators and why it’s been added as a category in their national awards: “Storytelling can play a powerful role for organisations, it creates connections, builds relationships and enables people to understand messages.  It is increasingly becoming a vital skill for internal communicators and can be used to increase creativity, communicate culture and build a connected, engaged and purposeful organisation.  At the IoIC we have supported this by launching dedicated awards, highlighting the skill in our competency framework and further supported it with dedicated training programmes to help our members and the IC community hone their storytelling skills.”

Many forward-thinking organisations provide training and development in the art of storytelling, through guides, webinars and workshops, helping leaders engage, influence and drive performance within their teams. In fact, there’s a whole storytelling industry out there with bespoke and tailored packages to help us become master storytellers. As the The College of Public Speaking put it: “Your audience may never remember your point, but they will always remember your story!”

Share your story with me

I’ve been collecting short stories, insights, advice and predictions from internal communicators from around the world as part of my ‘Who’s who in IC‘ series. If you’d like to join the ‘Who’s who’ wall of fame, just complete this form and send a photo. It would be great to hear from you!

Thanks for reading.


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