I love a good story. In fact, during practically every conversation with one client, he’s guaranteed to say “Pauline there’s always a story…”
I introduced this blog space on my website to share my story, a reflection of the past 20 years working as an independent internal communication consultant and all those stories I’ve been privileged to be a part of and share through numerous communications activities.
National Storytelling Week, from 26 January to 2 February, is a great reminder for us to sharpen our internal comms pencils and practice the art of telling stories at work. If you’re not a natural storyteller, 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.
What does storytelling mean to business and why is it so important to internal communicators?
Storytelling and leadership are both performance arts, which involve as much doing as thinking, according to Steve Denning, best-selling author of ‘The Springboard’ and ‘The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling’. He warns that 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. For example, the springboard story approach helps communicate a complex idea and sparks action, but generally lacks a plot and a turning point.
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.”
The power of storytelling
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 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. 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”.
We’ve been sharing stories 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.
The IoIC (Institute of Internal Communication) list messaging, storytelling and design as core technical skills in their IoIC profession map, which should be used “to ensure business messages are interpreted into effective content that is clear, inspiring and relevant to all employee and stakeholder groups”. Storytelling is also a category in the IoIC national awards. This year’s winning entry from the Commercial Banking Communications Team at Lloyds Banking Group for their Values in Action Storytelling directly impacted the colleague survey and was described by the judges as “a truly motivating and engaging storytelling campaign that demonstrates great understanding of audience plus a fitting way to influence attitude and culture”.
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
Short stories and insights from internal communication professionals can be found in my regular online interview ‘Who’s who in IC‘.
To share your story on ‘Who’s who’ just complete this form.
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