From our earliest years to our twilight years, we use stories to better understand the world we live in. They take us on new adventures and we learn a lot when we let our imaginations run wild. Stories captivate us because they make a mark on our memory and because they are about people, their emotions, experiences and needs; they allow us to make sense of life. Stories call for collaboration and connection with each other.
The art of storytelling has evolved from its ancient beginnings into a method recognised by many influential people. Think of Barack Obama's inaugural speech and its emotional call for diversity and inclusion or, more recently, Airbnb's "Belong anywhere" ad campaign, designed to make people feel "at home" anywhere in the world. The factual rationality of a political campaign or the choice of a resort becomes secondary to the emotional connection.
For the manager in you, seeking to engage your team, storytelling allows you to inspire with authenticity. You can share more of "yourself" with your people, while sharing your vision and strategy, giving meaning and purpose to your employees' daily work.
1. The key elements of storytelling
- A personal connection: a story in which you played a key role and which you can therefore tell first hand.
- Pride: a story that explains why you are proud to work for your company.
- Values: a story that showcases societal values or exemplary behaviour, demonstrating their impact.
- Vision: a story that helps your team understand the company's vision, showing how it fits into the future - very useful in times of change.
- Emotional language, using simple words, allows people to identify with the emotions on display (anger, fear, joy, sadness, rejection and surprise...); the use of metaphors helps to stimulate the imagination.
2. When to use narration, storytelling
Stories can be developed to stimulate innovation, share knowledge, and build and consolidate communities and teams... Here are some examples of situations where the technique is used frequently and successfully:
- Change and transition Change and breaking with habits can create frustration and scepticism. In such situations, stories can help to anchor an understanding of why the change is needed. Creating scenarios and visions to frame the announced changes helps your teams accept and recognise their place in this new vision of the future.
- Celebration/recognition As your teams works on challenging projects, prepare stories about how the teams came together and how, together, they overcame the difficulties. For added impact, you can include stories from the team members.
- Communication with clients and other stakeholders. The very purpose of your business and what you do every day, how you have met a challenge or dealt with a customer-threatening situation, are all opportunities to develop a story. Once the emotional connection is made, the focus will shift to what happens next, as new perspectives open up. It's about what your audience will want to do after listening to your story.
3. Communication routes/channels
Once you have shaped your story, don't miss an opportunity to tell it/get it told. Remember the origins of stories - they were told orally and they have endured because they have been passed on from generation to generation by word of mouth. Use all possible channels to amplify your message.
- Management meetings, phone calls, workshops, training and seminars ... to create that personal link.
- Think also about online exchanges through social networks.
- Emphasise the emotional aspect and bring your stories to life with visual and audio aids, music, videos, and writing...