Humans are born storytellers. From the prehistoric fireside to the internet, we tell stories to entertain, pass on knowledge and share cultural values. We like telling – and listening to – stories that are personal, intimate and rich with detail.
Unfortunately, the value of storytelling seems lost on many businesses. As a strategist and writer for business and financial clients, I find “corporate communication” can be an oxymoron. Businesses often miss the opportunity to tell stories that their clients, customers, stockholders or communities can relate to, by failing to talk in simple, honest words about what matters to people.
That’s ironic, because businesses do have stories worth telling – and telling well. Stories about igniting innovation, overcoming challenges, investing in communities, or building strong, positive cultures.
In search of a solution, I recently attended THREAD at Yale – a program that attracts professionals from print, video, audio, photography and other fields – to learn from master storytellers and each other.
For me, THREAD was a trip both backward and forward in time. I was back on the familiar ground of the Yale University campus. But I was there to explore new forms of digital communication with people who hadn’t been born the last time I warmed a seat in a lecture hall. Sharing ideas with a diverse, multi-national group of journalists, novelists, podcasters and other storytellers (from media as varied as The New York Times, NPR, The Moth, the New Yorker and Buzzfeed) was an incredible, eye-opening experience.
I was looking for a fresh point of view and insights into today’s audiences and communication platforms. What I found, in addition, was a way to rekindle my own storytelling spark. My main takeaway is that we’re all “meaning machines” (to quote Glynn Washington of the podcast/radio series Snap Judgment). We draw meaning from the parts of other peoples’ stories that resonate with our own stories and lives.
What can business and financial writers learn from the storytelling experience?
1. Businesses need to tell stories that people care about. Some examples: how listening to customers and clients leads to new products or better services, how the company nurtures employees’ growth, or how it got back on track after a rough stretch.
2. Whatever the story, it has to matter to the audience, not just the business. Does the story deepen the relationship between the company and its customers, clients, investors, employees, media or community?
3. The story needs to be told in a way that doesn’t underestimate the audience’s intelligence. Have a true, believable voice and don’t preach or resort to corporate-speak.
4. Finally, consider all of the available platforms – print, on-line, broadcast, video, infographic, social, etc. – and choose the richest and most engaging ways to tell the story.
Companies can use stories to strengthen relationships with their audiences. But, those stories need to be honest, human and lucidly told. And they must help people make meaningful judgments about the businesses they buy from, invest in or work for.
By: Ed Nebb