I recently worked as Corporate Storyteller for an international company and they asked me for some tips. Here they are:
© Matts Heijbel
Tips regarding Corporate Storytelling
First Alan Kay:
”Why was Solomon recognized as the wisest man in the world? Because he knew more stories (proverbs) than anyone else. Scratch the surface in a typical boardroom and we’re all just cavemen with briefcases, hungry for a wise person to tell us stories.”
And then FAQ:s
Hasn’t it always existed?
Yes, absolutely. People in all parts of the world and in all cultures have always narrated. That is how one holds together an organisation and passes on knowledge and values. To develop and use the multi-tool Corporate Storytelling is a way to consciously use narrations to build and develop the organisation or company.
Isn’t it enough with the usual company presentations?
No. Numbers, tables, diagrams and sales results are probably okay. They are based on facts and therefore unchallengeable. However, some people have difficulty taking in the information and find it much easier to understand and learn with the help of stories. One could say that management information based on facts is aimed towards the brain while storytelling can choose its way via the stomach or the heart.
Is it not the product or the service itself that does the talking?
Yes, one could say that. A manufacturers’ car is probably the most important instrument in promoting the trademark. But it can also be delivered verbally via customers and manufacturers who can provide even more information.
The same counts for services. One must bring them to life and talk about them so that they become visible. Of course it is the overall picture which builds the trademark. To work with Corporate Storytelling one needs authentic pictures which can influence the overall picture of the company and the trademark.
Where are they?
They are in all organisations and relationships between customers and other interested parties. They can be heard in meetings, coffee shops, dining areas, pubs and in cars. They are usually about people who have said or done one thing or another.
What distinguishes them?
They relate in a concrete manner to an event or a person in a way which shows knowledge and/or values, which are typical for people in the organisation, the product or the service.
A good story:
∞ Is short and to the point
∞ Doesn’t get lost in details and facts
∞ Focuses on behaviours rather than on a specific person
∞ Is easy to understand and goes to the listeners heart
How do I harvest them?
You should always have two ears and one mouth, listen more than you speak. Listen carefully to the conversation in question and, if needed, ask leading questions e.g.
Can you tell me about:
– an occasion which you think shows something which is very typical for our company?
– when you felt proud to be a part of this organisation?
– how you or someone else solved a question which means that you work more effectively than before?
– a mistake, or near mistake, which you would not like to repeat again or from which you have learnt something special?
How long should they be?
1500 to 2000 characters is enough (for reference, this text is approx 5000 characters). They can be shorter but preferably not longer. When verbally presented they can be built upon; using different wording to make them more colourful, that is to say if the narrator manages to engage the audience. However, only the moment can tell if this will work.
How can I package them in a dramatic way?
The most common mistake one makes when trying to instigate Corporate Storytelling is that one places too much emphasis on facts and details. It is also common that out of politeness and for hierarchy reasons, that one tries to pay tribute to a certain person who has a special position in the company.
Remember, a story is not owned by an individual but by a group of people close to the trademark.
When packaging, describe as simply as possible without using too many facts, so that your audience will be able to visualise in their head what you have described. They should be able to remember it and think that they own it. In that way, they will be inclined to formulate it in their own way pass it forward.
How should we use them?
Verbal narratives, in other words with a speaker and an audience, is perhaps most effective with personnel and customers and that is mainly how we see us using them. However, one can also have them in newspapers, on the web or intranet, on the wall etc. One can also use them in advertising and marketing and talk about them in relation to the media. Another important opportunity in which to use them is when recruiting and meeting e.g. students and others whom one hopes to work with in the future.
Who should tell them?
In short, as many people as possible. Different narratives can provide different benefits. If one can get a customer to talk positively about your company, then that is excellent. Colleagues, and of course, the media can also tell them.
For us, the first goal is to make stories present in all our meetings, as a way to highlight our values. From there, they might spread to customer meetings, recruitments and other situations where we get to present our company.
Should they be true?
Yes, fundamentally they should be. The actual core or point of the narrative should be true. But it does not matter if details and facts are missing. They should be true and understood as being true. They should be dramatically clear so that people remember them and can talk about them. However, one is allowed to exaggerate and describe surroundings so as to encourage interest and the actual point of the drama.
Is it not just as important to listen?
Definitely. By doing a short and simple narration, others will want to join in and tell theirs. Then you will be a listener and not primarily a storyteller. The fact of the matter is that storytelling processes are also learning processes, where one involves several in the organisation. One achieves ones target and the business becomes more visible. It is just as important for bosses and leaders. Listen!
© Matts Heijbel