Stories are powerful. They can captivate audiences, inspire empathy and understanding, forge new connections, and compel others to take action. Stories also have the power to change the hearts and minds of your employees, customers, stakeholders, and leaders, making them incredibly effective tools for transformation and growth.
As leaders and communicators, it’s our job to inform, involve, and inspire our audiences by shining a light on the people, places, and things that truly matter. But that, my friend, can be harder than it sounds.
I recently had the opportunity to present on this very topic at the ACCP Employee Experience Summit to an incredible group of corporate social responsibility professionals in Chicago.
Here are the top three storytelling takeaways from that discussion that will help you tell the stories that matter at your organization.
1. Make Your Audience the Hero, Not Your Company
Stories can be 22 times more memorable than facts alone, but some stories are flat-out better than others. So, why do some change the world while others fall on deaf ears?
It’s one of the most important, yet overlooked, rules of all effective communication: great stories serve the listener, not the teller. Yes, you need to keep your organization’s goals in mind (or it’s your job on the chopping block), but for stories to have any shot at driving workplace culture, they must consider the audience first and foremost.
I hate to be the one to break it to you, but your employees don’t care about how cool your company is. They care about stories they can relate to. Stories that help them understand that what they do matters. Stories where they can see themselves and their workplace friends in the words and pictures.
The best narratives come from a place of deep understanding and authentic connection to an audience. So get out there! Immerse yourself in the culture to get to know the true heroes of your company’s story, and use that understanding to tell stories that resonate.
2. Come Back to Your Greater Purpose
Richard Branson famously said, “It’s always been my objective to create businesses with a defined purpose beyond just making money.” Whether your company is selling life-saving drugs or discount tires, there is meaning to be shared that goes far beyond your product or service.
As a champion for social good within your organization, you totally get that. You’re in a unique position to help communicate that greater purpose and drive business decisions that directly impact your communities. But when the stories you tell aren’t in line with the mission, vision, and values of your organization, don’t expect the results to be in line with those things either. The stories and the results are directly linked.
Your audience is smart. They can smell corporate-speak and spin from a mile away. If the stories you tell aren’t aligned with the core of your company and the pulse of your people, they will inevitably fade away. Make sure to tell stories that highlight how your people are fulfilling the promises your brand is making. When you get clear about how to directly tie your communications strategy to your business goals and CSR initiatives, amazing things can happen.
Ask yourself, “How does my company’s mission intersect with what our employees are doing every day on and off the job?”
To tell impactful stories, you have to understand how the purpose of your organization reflects and reinforces its most valuable asset—its people. Do some digging to find the sweet spot between the message your company needs to share and what your employees are actually experiencing and demonstrating at work and in your communities. That is a story worth telling.
3. Inspire Your Employees to Tell Their Own Stories
Sharing the stories of your organization should not fall on your corporate communications teams’ shoulders alone. Empower your employees — the eyes and ears of your organization — to tell their own stories by keeping them informed, involved, and inspired with and through your organization’s mission, vision, and values.
Ask yourself, “Are we putting employees in a position where employees themselves are actually experiencing the mission, vision, and values of our organization?”
By giving your employees the opportunity to tell their own stories, you shine a light on the people living your brand every single day. You give them the ability to share their experiences, communicate what it means to be a part of your organization, and rally behind the greater purpose of it all.
Employee generated content is not something to fear. It’s already happening, whether your legal team likes it or not. The bonus is that the third-party nature of this type of storytelling gives it even more credibility and relevance, especially outside of the workplace, than just a straight-up corporate communications piece ever could.
Here are just few ways you can activate your employees to tell their own stories:
- Conduct a video contest that encourages employees to share what your employee advocacy program means to them.
- Reimagine your intranet and make it easier for your employees to read and share stories on their own social channels.
- Create an internal storytelling app that leverages the personal nature of a mobile device to both share and capture stories, photos and videos of your employees doing all the great things that make your CSR efforts successful.
I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. In fact, you’ll need to muster up all the courage you can to find and tell stories that matter in new and different ways. But that extra effort is so worth it. To your employees, to your customers, to your communities and to you.