“What unites people? Armies? Gold? Flags?
Stories! There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it”.
If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you might recognize this quote from Tyrion Lannister, whose wit and intellect helps him overcome prejudice.
Storytelling is the most ingrained, instinctual way that humans communicate. It’s what makes messages stick. Australian Aboriginal parents didn’t just lecture their children to stay away from fast-flowing rivers, they told them the story of the bunyip - a terrifying water monster that would eat any small person wandering too close to water. The Emperor’s New Clothes warns us of vanity and boastfulness. Aesop’s fable of the mouse and the lion, dating back to the 5th century BC, teaches the importance of respecting everyone, even those much smaller than us.
Organizations are now starting to realize the power of storytelling for communicating shared values, building team cohesion and increasing engagement. If you want to know more about why storytelling works in organizations, you can read about the neuroscience of stories here.
Moving away from fact-based articles to narrative can be a big change, but you’ll see the benefits in the way people connect with your internal communications and, hopefully, each other.
Here are three ways to tell a powerful story and engage your audience:
Every great story has a compelling main character: who will yours be? The best characters are relatable, and have a story that speaks to their triumph over adversity.
As a general rule, you’ll move your audience, and get better engagement, if your character is a hard-working member of your primary workforce, rather than a leader. Why? Can you think of a single great novel about an already-successful white dude who has more success, the end?
Obviously if your leader has a really powerful story about overcoming obstacles to get where they are, by all means tell it. But mostly, your employees will be most inspired by hearing stories about people just like them.
A trope in literature, maybe, but most memorable stories follow a narrative arc, also known as ‘the hero’s journey’, with five key stages:
Exposition: This is where you set the scene and introduce the characters.
Rising action: A series of events that complicate matters for the main protagonist.
Climax: The point of greatest tension - often the protagonist will have to make a critical choice that will guide her or his actions for the rest of the story.
Falling action: Events unfold and the tension begins to release.
Resolution: We see the problems of the story resolved and feel a satisfying sense of conclusion.
You can employ this model to effectively tell the story of your main ‘character’. What problem did they solve or challenge did they overcome? What nearly derailed them? How did they triumph?
Every writer has their own unique style. While we would always advocate for straightforward language in a workplace setting (maybe leave Mr. Darcy at the door), you should pen your story in a way that feels natural for you.
Decide what feeling you want to evoke, and don’t shy away from emotive or descriptive language. Facts and figures have their place in business communication, but when you have your storytelling hat on, you’re allowed to channel your inner Hemingway: your role is to trigger an emotion in your audience. Just don’t bring the rum to work.
Feeling inspired? We’d love to hear about the stories you tell and how they’re received! Let us know in the comments below.
Still unsure? We’re happy to help. Let us find storytelling opportunities in your business, coach your team, or tell your story for you. We love a good yarn.