One time, when working as a content writer and marketer at a tech startup, our CEO called an impromptu company-wide meeting. We all arrived, sat on our respective beanbags (this was a tech company, after all) and waited, wide-eyed, for the big reveal.
He then proceeded to spend two hours presenting chart after complicated chart, adding in random anecdotes here and there that only served to confuse us further.
By the end of it, no one had any idea what we were supposed to take away. Eventually, someone had the guts to ask: “So, what’s the outcome here? What are we supposed to do?”
You’ve probably sat in a conference room (or on a beanbag like me!) while someone presented a polished, well-rehearsed deck all about your business’ mission, vision and values, and thought “I really don’t care.”
Unfortunately, this is something that many of us have experienced throughout our careers.
Situations like this are the result of the corporate storyteller assuming that information simply creates meaning.
But here’s the thing: audiences need emotion in order to feel connection. And they need connection in order to perceive meaning from that information.
That’s what makes the difference between presenting a whole bunch of data with no purpose, or delivering a powerful corporate story that resonates with your audience.
Let’s break it down.
Emotion Creates Connection
I just spent the last week rewatching every single Harry Potter movie. I’ve seen every single one probably dozens of times, and yet I still laughed, cried, and screamed (that snake attack at Godric’s Hollow still gets me every time) throughout them all.
I grew up with Harry, Ron and Hermione, so their adventures feel like my adventures, too.
Emotional connections like this are what create a bond between you and the (magical!) world around you.
Think about some of the emotional connections you’ve felt throughout your life:
With your parents. With your partner. With your children. With your pets. With your friends. With your home. With your favorite sports team, books and movies.
If we wrote your whole life story today, many of the points of interest and pivotal moments would center around your emotional connections to people, places and things.
These emotional connections ground you and help you find meaning.
Connection Creates Meaning
Imagine if you took a pile of data and numbers, threw it up on a slide in front of the entire company, and left the room.
Here’s what would happen:
- Some in the room would seek to find meaning from the information, drawing their own conclusions.
- Some would be turned off immediately and dismiss it.
- Some would just wait for you to come back and explain what it all means.
If I were to guess, I’d probably fall into the second reaction category. I’m not particularly patient, and when you lose me in a presentation—there’s no hope of getting me back.
And when you think about it, none of those scenarios sound ideal, right? The first causes misalignment. The second creates negativity. The third forces inaction.
Your role as a corporate storyteller is to make sure neither of these outcomes arise; instead, it’s your role to communicate meaning to your audience so they may find purpose and take action.
Meaning Leads to Action
I’ve quit many a “good” job for a lack of meaning in my work. Deep down I felt disconnected from the purpose of what I was doing and sought to find it elsewhere.
When someone is checked out from work, like I was, they’re not going to be the type of person who steps up, gives a 100% every day, and rallies others to do the same.
You’ve probably felt both checked in and checked out of work at some point in your career.
Let me guess. When you were checked in, you felt positive, excited, and ready to step up. When you were checked out, you were counting the days until you could put in your notice like I did.
As corporate storytellers, our job is to help our audience find meaning that incites positive behavioural shifts. In other words: find the resonance that helps our audience connect with, and be motivated by, our stories.
Okay sure, that makes sense. So, how can I apply corporate storytelling to customers?
In exactly the same way! Consumers connect with and trust brands they believe to be authentic.
Brand failures happen not for lack of trying; they happen when the message lacks resonance, depth and relevance.
Just think of some of the most noteworthy brand fails of the last few years.
BIC’s international women’s day campaign. Pepsi’s Kendall Jennar ad. Wells Fargo’s PR disaster around fraud that led to the ousting of its CEO.
The problem is that these brands, and many others, invented stories that purported to be authentic, when they weren’t. And consumers saw right through it.
The 6 Questions You Must Answer for Better Corporate Storytelling
Translating stories into felt experiences is the goal of corporate storytelling. If you want others to pay attention to what you’ve got to say, find meaning and take action, start every business story by answering the following six questions:
- Who is my audience, and how can I know them deeper?
- What meaning do I want to create for them?
- What series of emotions will create that meaning for them?
- What information do I include, in what form & structure?
- What’s my process for infusing information with emotion?
- How can I improve my own communications skills throughout the process?
Information + Emotion = Meaning
The simple truth of great corporate storytelling is that information + emotion = meaning.
The best corporate stories are crafted to infuse information with emotion, which builds connection, creates meaning, and inspires action.
Businesses must begin shifting how their products, brands and ideas are perceived by putting the audience’s emotional experience first.
Authenticity. Trust. Credibility. These are all byproducts of business stories that uncover this hidden scaffolding and find their resonance.
Guest post contributed by Alexa Hubley
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