That’s the refrain of business leaders when employee performance doesn’t match expectations, or when a new initiative is greeted with a collective yawn. Employees must be too busy, disengaged or distracted to understand why this is important, right?
It’s a common predicament. Perhaps it’s not the audience, but the message.
There’s a far better way to engage internal audiences, and it doesn’t include handing out T-shirts and coffee mugs. Use storytelling to make an emotional connection.
We’ve been taught that “correct” business communications isvery detailed, data driven and cost/benefit oriented. It’s a proven formula. However, when the goal is to inspire action, introduce change, or persuade, storytelling is more effective. It helps ideas stick.
You know this is true. It’s how myths and legends are born. It’s why we share the same stories around the table at Thanksgiving or at reunions with old friends. It’s why the business origin stories for Coca Cola or Spanx are fascinating.
Engaging employees through storytelling binds them together in a shared experience. It’s a method anyone can use. Here are four tips to help you get started:
Start with the end in mind. What do you want your team to believe and do after they hear the story? Identify the objective and build the story around it.
Set the scene. A strong introduction is the key to a solid story. Engage the audience with a personal experience, a struggle or make an employee the hero.
Simplify. Twitter has taught us that we can make a point in 140 characters. A strong story, just like a good joke, adds just enough details to advance the story. Too much detail and you’ve lost them.
Be authentic. Use conversational language. Share something about you. The power to persuade is lost if the story sounds like it’s lifted from a user’s manual.
Has this ever happened to you? You’ve got an important message or a new program to share at an employee meeting. You know it will be revolutionary, empowering team members to grow and drive performance. Yet the magic is somehow lost in translation. You look out over a sea of disinterested—or worse—bored faces.
Now imagine what happens when you begin this way:
“Once upon a time…”
Did their ears perk up? Did they maybe even lean in? Just a little?
There’s a reason for that.
From the beginning of human time, stories have been the most effective way to pass on traditions, history, values and culture. To influence, persuade, rally, and pretty much get people to listen to and retain your message. And it’s about more than just being entertained.
Neuroscientists have discovered that there are chemical changes that occur in the human brain when we experience a good story. Oxytocin, that feel-good chemical that subtly and powerfully influences people to not only pay attention but to WANT to cooperate is released when we are emotionally engaged by the power of stories.
You don’t have to be Stephen Spielberg to tell a good story.
Stories have these elements in common:
A character we care about or relate to who wants something dear to him
Something or someone who gets in the way of what he wants
A breathless moment during which we’re very afraid our hero won’t get what he wants, and then, “Ah…” A turning point
Our hero either gets what he wants or doesn’t. But either way, he is changed forever and life settles into a new normal.
How can you achieve your business objectives with stories that engage, persuade, and move people to action? For starters, learn to see your communications in terms of:
Characters (team members, leaders, and customers)
Desires (objectives you & your audiences want to achieve such as a better working environment, a more engaged workforce, a more effective performance management plan)
Obstacles to achieving those desires (not enough money, inadequate systems and processes, the wiles of human nature)
Now go tell the story of how your hero climbed that mountain and planted his flag and be specific about how he did it. Your audience will want to climb that mountain with you.
Need help telling your stories? You’re in luck because that’s what we do here at Insight Strategic Communications. We help businesses tell their stories and get what they want, whether that’s buy-in for a new training platform or accelerating performance or engaging employees. Contact us today and let’s talk about how we can help with storytelling in internal communications (firstname.lastname@example.org).