A woman returns from work one day, only to find her beloved dog choking on something. She immediately drives him to a vet, who says he’ll have to keep the dog in observation for a few hours. So the woman decides to go home and come back later.
But as soon as the woman gets home, she notices the phone has been ringing and picks it up. To her surprise, it’s the vet.
“Get out of the house immediately! Go to the neighbour’s house. I’m calling the cops!” he shouts.
Do you want to know what happened next? We bet you do. That’s the power of storytelling. It can trigger curiosity and engage people like nothing else.
As humans, we are surrounded by stories. Whether in movies, books, history, news pieces, or conversations with friends and family, stories are how we learn, evolve, and connect with others.
Andrea Migliano, an anthropologist at University College London, conducted a study on the Agata, the Filipino hunter-gatherers. When asked what traits the Agata valued the most in their peers, storytelling came first. And some subjects even valued it twice as much as hunting. Storytellers were more desirable to the Agata than the other members of the tribe.
The corporate world is no exception. With the rise of remote work and globalization, business environments are getting bigger and isolated. And storytelling has emerged as a unifying thread that can keep frontline workers in an organization connected.
We know not everyone is a creative writer. But we also believe that with the right push and shift in mindset, you can make storytelling an integral part of your organization. So in this article, we’ll walk you through some of our best tips to ignite your internal communication with the power of storytelling. But first, let’s take a trip down the history lane so you have some context.
- A (brief) history of storytelling
- How to supercharge engagement with internal communications stories
- Over to you
A (brief) history of storytelling
Storytelling has existed since the development of language itself. As Yuva Noah Harari explains in his book Sapiens:
Storytelling has been one of the foundational pillars of society, shaping our perceptions of right and wrong for generations.
From the 30,000-year old cave drawings in France to the urban legends and fables of today, all the cultures in history have narrated stories.
Not only that, many scholars and authors have come up with theories and models to understand storytelling better. The prominent structures include:
Seven Story Archetypes
An archetype is a character or theme that shows up repetitively across different literature and human experiences.
Literary theorist Christopher Booker analyzed the collective history of theatre, literature, and film. He concluded that there are seven story archetypes that occur over and over again, and referred to them as the seven basic plots. These include: Rags to riches, the quest, rebirth, overcoming the monster, comedy, tragedy, and voyage and return. Since then, these common plots have guided storytelling for generations.
Raise your hand if you’re heard this before: There’s a hero, living in his comfort zone, when suddenly someone arrives and wants to take him on an adventure. The hero is reluctant at first, but then goes anyway.
Doesn’t ring a bell? Let’s see some examples:
- Harry Potter lives with the Dursleys. Hagrid comes to take him to Hogwarts.
- Bilbo Baggins lives in a hole. Gandalf comes to take him on an adventure.
- Ned Stark lives in Winterfell. But here comes Robert Baratheon and his invitation to come to King’s Landing.
- Luke Skywalker and Obi Wan. You get the drill!
As you can see, the same basic template has been the foundation of countless stories across books, movies, and tv shows. This template is known as the hero’s journey.
The point is, storytelling is not just an inherent talent people are born with. It can be learned and instilled in an organization. And it can be used to elevate internal communication and employee engagement.
How to supercharge engagement with internal communications stories
Evoking a sense of ownership in your workers is a big part of boosting employee engagement and productivity. But it can come only when they are involved in day-to-day communications. In fact, 70% of employees state that being empowered to succeed is a critical part of employee engagement.
That’s why the old internal communication model of top-down communication doesn’t work anymore. You don’t want to just “talk at” your workers, but “talk with” them. It should be a two-way dialogue or else it won’t engage them.
In contrast, the new, more effective approach to storytelling for internal communication is empowering real people to share authentic anecdotes. These unpolished stories will help you leverage the raw, personal power of storytelling for internal communications.
The following best practices will shed more light on how you can make this happen.
1. Make it easy
Many organizations use outdated and buggy internal communication software that makes it hard to share stories. Some are still using email newsletters as their only channel of internal communication. So workers often need to involve the IT department if they want their stories to see the light of the day.
In a survey conducted by Prescient Digital Media, only 13% of workers reported participating in their intranet on a daily basis — 31% said they never do. If it’s not dead simple to post stories, no worker will. Using an engaging and intuitive piece of internal communication software can solve this problem.
2. Share stories as they happen
The more you wait to publish a story about a recent event or accomplishment, the less impact it will have. What your workers want to see are authentic stories happening in real-time. It gives them the opportunity to be a part of the milestone being celebrated and congratulate their peers in a timely manner.
3. Mix it up
Storytelling for internal communications is more of a creative approach than a structured one. There is no limit to the kind of information you can convey through stories. So don’t think of them as suitable for only a certain type of post.
For example, a story doesn’t always have to be about a recent accomplishment within your team or department. It can also be:
- A customer success story: A case study depicting how a customer installed or used your product and the outcome they achieved.
- An internal press release: A news story announcing a new initiative or goal that your organization has taken up recently.
- An external article: A leading research study or opinion piece that is relevant to your organization and its culture.
4. Bring stories to town hall meetings
Town hall meetings get their name from … no points for guessing … town halls! Town halls are big town gatherings where everyone, from civil servants to the town residents, gets to know about upcoming developments and policies.
Similarly, a town hall meeting is where the management reports everyone in the organization on company-wide matters. Workers have the opportunity to ask questions and participate in the discussions.
Starting town hall meetings with a story is a great idea for a couple of reasons:
- It makes upper management appear more human.
- It increases workers’ trust in the organization’s leadership.
According to Ally Bunin, Global Head of Internal Communications Stories at Russell Reynolds Associates:
5. Stay authentic
Stories that are straight from the heart convey honesty, and honesty is what makes you stand out and engage workers. This is especially important for senior leaders and upper management.
Leaders should tell their own stories, and not just recite the polished scripts handed to them by professional writers. Even if the business is struggling at the moment and you’re sharing some bad news, you’ll make a better impact with a sincere story than made-up numbers.
The more open you are in your storytelling for internal communications, the more inclined your workers are to believe in what you say. And they’ll not shy away from lending their support.
6. Avoid information overload
Stories have the most impact when they are relevant to workers and shared in spaced intervals. Otherwise, they just end up overwhelming the recipients.
Too often employers don’t filter or personalize their messages for specific workers. When everyone is getting everything, they can’t pay attention to anything. Not to mention data security and privacy issues that come along with such as approach.
I once worked with an organization that added all its consultants, vendors, and partners to a message board connected to all their email accounts. Everyone got an email when someone posted something on that board.
It was meant to encourage open communication but it did the opposite. For example, I could see all the information related to other projects this company had outsourced, including confidential data such as invoices! So all the contractors the company worked with couldn’t communicate until the matter was resolved.
When it comes to marketing to customers, a company takes steps to ensure that their messages are relevant, and the customers have a choice of opting out of the communication.
But we don’t offer the same courtesy to our employees. We just assume that they want to know everything happening in the organization. Huge mistake! Always allow workers to choose what communications they want to get and how often.
7. Use the power of repetition
While you want to avoid information overload, it’s important to make sure that your most important stories don’t get lost in oblivion.
Stories tied to your mission, brand, values, and identity are meant to stick. These are worth drilling down in the hearts and minds of your workers, no matter how often you need to repeat them.
As this Forbes piece explains, many successful CEOs use storytelling to strengthen their brand’s narrative. Howard Schultz, chairman of Starbucks, often recited the anecdote of his travels to Milan, his discovery of the brewed espresso, and how these trips ignited his passion for the beverage.
He shared this very story at many different times, events, and company locations to inspire workers, show his human side, and emphasize that the Starbucks brand is more than just selling coffee. It’s rather about delivering an experience. And his story engaged and motivated Starbucks employees for years.
This goes on to show how powerful authentic storytelling can be for internal communications.
Over to you
There is no better way to engage employees with your storytelling for internal communication than to make them feel something. People remember and support ideas that invoke a positive emotion. And the content that appeals the most to our emotions is a story. No wonder research shows that people are more likely to remember a story than a statistic.
From the oldest story in the world to today, internal communications stories have the potential to get your workers to feel excited about their work. They trigger a sense of connectedness and pride in your workers for being a part of your organization.
Led by technology companies like Blink, a more democratic approach to storytelling for internal communications improve your organization’s culture and sense of community.
We replace static top-down updates with rich, user-generated content. With our intuitive creation toolkit, authentic stories from anywhere get a chance to see the light of the day. And these can be in the form of pictures, videos, and anecdotes.
So you can stop sinking time into edited corporate announcements that receive little engagement. Instead, give way to the most exciting local stories created by staff on the frontline, amplifying them across the whole organization.
Just remember: stories make messages stick, and this stickiness is crucial to the success of your internal communication plan. So rather than just distributing memos and factual slide decks, use these tips to focus on cultivating and amplifying storytelling within your company.