Nobody goes to the cinema to watch the latest blockbuster PowerPoint presentation. Nobody settles down to read a best-selling spreadsheet. Nobody passionately retells the best bits of their manager’s email. [Well, maybe some people do, but they’re just weird.] But if a presentation, or report, or even a memo is illustrated with a story, then it has a good chance of hitting home.
The problem is that the idea of corporate storytelling has become so popular, so quickly, that suddenly every Tom, Dirk or Harriet thinks that every story is worth telling.
Not so. Just as in life, there are stories worth telling, and there are stories that are not really stories at all. The good news is that sometimes it’s merely a case of reframing the narrative, taking a different perspective.
For example, nobody went to see the movie ‘Jobs’ because they were interested in the ups and downs of the Apple share price. They went to watch the human story of a troubled genius whose single-minded obsession happened to be a company called Apple.
Genuine, authentic, engaging and successful stories are always about characters, their situations, their struggles, the dreams they chase, the obstacles they face, and the actions they take to win or lose.
So where does a creative corporate communicator go to find a story worthy of the label ‘story’? Here are four easy sources and approaches:
1. The most obvious source is customers, the people that provide the purpose for the very existence of the business. The trick here is to canvas the experiences of the toughest customers, not the happiest. That can be scary, and that’s exactly why it will result in a story worth telling.
2. Companies also have access to the stories of their employees. Here you are looking for the wildly successful achievers who inspire a following, as well as the quietly exceptional individuals that inspire respect. But again, the high achievers need to have a backstory of obstacles they have overcome, [nobody cares about a beautiful brat with a trust fund who made it to the top of her daddy’s business]. And the quietly exceptional heroes need to have achievements that are astonishing.
3. Then there are stories that can be borrowed from other companies, and other industries. These are the stories that great corporate storytellers like Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin and Adam Morgan tell so well. These are the stories that virtually invented the genre of corporate storytelling. You can find these stories with a smart keyword search online, and if you study them, you’ll find all of the elements of human storytelling fuelling the engine of your interest.
4. Finally, there are stories from the massively generous world of history and fiction. These tales are so rich in morals, meanings, metaphors and motivations that they can be tailored to inflame the hardest hearts and inspire the most tightly closed minds in any organisation.
So what do you look for when you want to tell your corporate story? Well, you could just look for the contact details of Actuate of course, but if you want to go it alone, the following will also help:
5 C’s of Corporate Story
Talk up your failures, not your successes. Because not every one of us is a roaring success, but we are all flawed and we have all failed and flailed at something or other – it’s what makes us all human, and therefore what connects us. You want to connect with your audience. Your connection is in your calamity.
People need to feel something when they’re experiencing a story. They can feel joy, delight, fear, anxiety, pride, hatred, contentment, or whatever. If you have facts or figures that you need to get across you have to find a way to make your audience care about them. Decide what you want them to feel and then shape your story accordingly.
Write the detail, the specifics of the scene you are setting to trigger sense memories in your audience. The sweet scent of freshly baked minced pies with the tinge of cinnamon, the crunch of stone underfoot as you walk up the driveway, the sound of a breeze humming through the trees, the syrupy crunch of freshly buttered toast.
Too many people tell stories in chronological order – this can be fine, but it is not always the best way. Start your story as near to the end as possible. In the middle is usually about right, where the action starts. A good trick is to write it out and then tear out the first five pages – see how that grabs you.
Get on with it. Move it along. Know what detail is painting a picture and what detail is just incredibly boring, or pedantic. If it isn’t adding interest or insight about the context or the character or the conflict or making us care more – kill it.