Shifting the business of storytelling

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Communication, Public Relations, Trust

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Have you ever finished a really good story and found yourself missing the characters? They’ve become your friends, bound to you forever as you have been immersed in their world? I know I have – and I still miss some of them, occasionally re-reading well-worn books just to check in and see if everyone’s ok.

Sadly, the same engagement won’t be found in organisational storytelling. Even though we have a proliferation of channels and a multitude of means to tell a good story, they mostly go untold, unread and ignored. I’ve spent the last six weeks with a variety of organisations working with them on their storytelling, helping their public relations and communications teams overcome some of the frustrations that lock up a good story and prevent their stakeholders from getting to know – and understand – the organisation’s heroes – and occasional villains.

In leadership sessions, authenticity is a prized quality, with the majority of would-be organisational leaders doing their utmost to be as authentic as possible but put them back into the workplace and in an instant, the transformational strengths of transparency, clarity and purpose disappear into the ether in favour of old-fashioned command-and-control. This means the real stories are seldom told, unceremoniously booted out in favour of ‘things we think we should say’ rather than ‘things that actually mean something to stakeholders’.

Organisations – be they government, businesses, charities, schools – default to the provision of information rather than telling the story of who they are and what they do for those they serve. The problem with information is that it is passive, is generally hard to find, it is presented for the organisation and there’s generally a lot of it that is very hard for the ‘outsider’ to piece together.​ Stories on the other hand are active. They go walkabout and they are for somebody – designed to help them, connect or engage. Stories explain and create meaning. They show us your world and invite us to build – or maintain – a relationship with you.​

My tip of the month is don’t be sitting comfortably churning out information. Reimagine storytelling for your business. Break the information chains that restrict understanding. Show us your characters and how they build your world. Engage me in such a way that I miss your organisation and actively seek you out. Tell me a story that changes my mind, makes me think differently or helps me understand. That’s our job to do – and to do it well.