How to Get Better at Corporate Storytelling

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If you’re a leader looking to strengthen company culture, provide inspiration, and define organizational values, corporate storytelling is the perfect modality for you. Stories engage your team members on a mental level (with charts, graphs and lists of facts), and on an emotional and spiritual level as well.

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In fact, the impact of storytelling isn’t arbitrary. There is science behind it. One fascinating finding shows that telling a story can synchronize the brain of the speaker and the listener. That’s powerful stuff!

Storytelling can truly be an art form, but don’t let that intimidate you. You can learn how to be an effective storyteller, if you put your mind to it. Using insight from Jessica Robinson, accomplished writer, storyteller and founder of Better Said Than Done, let’s discuss how to create effective and powerful corporate stories.


What’s the Point?

Before getting started, there is one key question you need to ask yourself: what is the point? The point of your story, that is. Is it to instigate change? Do you want to motivate your team? What specifically do you want to convey? What do you want your listeners to experience? Nail that down first.

Story Writing Strategy: Middle, Beginning and End

It may sound obvious, but a story needs a beginning, middle and end. What is less obvious is that it’s a good idea to start with the middle of the story and build out from there. How do you identify the middle of the story? It’s when the main conflict happens. This also includes the immediate results after the conflict, which provides further understanding of what is at stake. This makes up the meat of your story, so take your time to make it engaging and easily accessible.

Once you’ve got the middle of your story figured out, work backwards. Think about how you will set the scene for this crux moment. What characters are involved? What is at stake? Why should your audience even care? Use the beginning of your story to create an intriguing doorway that your audience will be curious enough to step inside. Otherwise, you might have a room full of people catching up on emails with their phones.

Now with the beginning and middle of the story fleshed out, it’s time to focus on the end. The end of your story explains the resolution of the conflict. It provides the lessons learned. What do you want your audience to walk away with? A depressing ending will leave them depressed. For that reason, be thoughtful in your closing, and aim to make the experience of listening to your story meaningful for your audience.


Use Character Development to Make Stories More Meaningful

One way to make stories more meaningful is to work on the characters presented. It can be easy to just toss a name out there with a brief description and feel like your audience knows the ins and outs of this person. Not so fast. Character development is an important piece of corporate story telling.

Take a look at your main character’s life on a macro level. Who were they before this story happened? What has made them who they are in life? What do they look like? In what economic conditions do they live? All of these things have an impact on your character. Knowing these factors about your character will give your story more depth, enabling your audience to more genuinely engage.

Corporate Storytelling Tips

Here are two fascinating tips for story telling:

1. When it comes to creating the most impactful story possible, it’s interesting to note that people respond better to stories about one person, rather than a group of people.

Paul Slovic, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Oregon and founder and president of Decision Research, explains that research has shown people will go to great lengths to help one person they’ve heard a powerful story about. However, that same generous and emotionally engaged person may become indifferent to the plight of a group of people. The study gave one group a photo of eight children in need of $300,000 total for cancer treatment. A second group was given a photo of just one child who needed a $300,000 treatment. Despite the same price of treatment, participants were more likely to donate to the single child who needed treatment, rather than helping the group of eight.

Keep this research in mind as you aim to create impact and real transformation in your organization.

2. What else increases the impact of a story? It’s fun to look at Pixar’s rules for storytelling. They’ve obviously mastered it, and here are five tips from them:

  • Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story tells? That’s the heart of it.
  • The audience admires a character for trying more than for their successes.
  • When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
  • Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, you’ll never share it with anyone.
  • What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

So are you ready to give it a try? Even for leaders who speak to thousands of people, using storytelling, especially personal stories, can be difficult. The difficulty doesn’t always lay in the creation of the story, but rather in the vulnerability it takes to present. You have to share more of yourself, and reveal more of your personal values in order to use storytelling. Sure, shocking statistics presented on a PowerPoint slide are easier to whip up and discuss, but if it’s real impact and true transformation you’re after—it’s time to tell a story.

Join us next week as we work through the creation of a real corporate story, using the tools and tips mentioned above.

If you have a story to tell about storytelling, or any questions at all—please leave a comment below or send me an email. You can also reach out to me on Twitter; I’d love to hear from you!

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