There are three essential stones needed to build a strong foundation of storytelling in business. Are you practicing them?
1. Corporate and Non Profit Storytelling must be gathered in an organic manner. The imperative of "come to the meeting with three stories to share" is always destined to fail. It is a very popular teaching right now to have company meetings where employees are required to share stories. Mandatory story sharing does not work. Most people, unless they are trained in the process of gathering stories as they happen, cannot produce stories on demand. It is much like the old game-show experiences where contestants say they can play the game great at home, but when they are there in the television studio, they cannot remember anything at all.
To gather stories from your employees and volunteers, immerse them in the techniques of story gathering. I teach several different methods including Trigger Words™ and Intentionality™. As people become more comfortable with finding stories, they will be better able to submit these story ideas via Email or perhaps in employee gatherings where storytelling is optional and fun. These types of stories, gathered in a natural and organic manner, make a much stronger foundation upon which to build programming and marketing.
2. Stories used in business storytelling must be used in an ethical manner. When you finds a story, either from an employee or customer, you must get permission to tell that story. It is never ethical to tell someone elses story as your own, as if it happened to you.
Several years ago, I was teaching at a corporate event. At the end of the session, members of the class began to share their stories that they had worked on all day. One participant began to tell a story about eating cookies while seated at the gate of an airport. As she spoke, I began to recognize clearly that her story was taken directly from one of those collections of sappy stories printed in mass market books. When she finished her tale, I asked her how it felt to have had that story published in a very popular book. After several moments of go-around, she admitted that it was not her story but one she found. Of course, her integrity with the group dropped a notch or two. What would the fallout be when caught telling lies with real customers?
In the non-profit world, the use of stories must be approached with special concern and sensitivity. Always have permission to use a story and never tell a story that did not happen unless you have clearly identified it as an amalgamation of the "typical" stories of your company.
3. Storytelling must be practiced from the "top down." If the CEO and other senior staff members refuse to use storytelling, then you cannot expect the sales staff on the floor to embrace story. Unlike many management fads and ideas, story as a communication tool has been proven successful for centuries. Yet, many employees may find storytelling initially uncomfortable. To be successful in your organization, the most senior members of your staff must be the first to tell stories in meetings and events. As a trainer, I know that the first group I must train for storytelling are the folks in the corner offices.
Knowing these three essential stones to storytelling will improve your experiences in corporate communications.