storytelling

Story spotting: listening for stories in your organisation

Everyone is a storyteller. Because we are human. We tell our friends and families what happened at work. We tell our colleagues what happened on the way to work. We tell stories.

And we make sense through stories. We are hardwired for it.

But not everyone is a natural Storyteller.

Here are three resources that start to help identify and shape the stories you encounter in organisations.

Once. Then. Then. The story spine.

A couple of years ago, Pixar’s 22 rules for storytelling

The story spine, Kenn Adams’ definition has been used by Pixar and Disney.

 

The Moth’s 8 Tips

The Moth is a not-for-profit foundation committed to the development of art and craft of storytelling. Amongst their many resources for improving oral storytelling, including videos and podcasts, they have a simple list of 8 tips.  These include:

  • No essays
  • Start in the action
  • Have some stakes

Stakes are essential in live storytelling.  What do you stand to gain or lose? Why is what happens in the story important to you? If you can’t answer this, then think of a different story. A story without stakes is an essay and is best experienced on the page, not the stage.

Anecdote’s Spotting Oral Stories Infographic

The clever folk at Anecdote have created a useful guide to recognising stories within an organisation.

The following graphic has been created by http://www.anecdote.com

Spotting Oral Stories

 

Story matters. Choose wisely.

Stories are how we sense-make our world.

 

 

Upworthy are sorry for the clickbait, and you won’t believe what they are doing next (It’s storytelling)

We have all seen the shift in ‘content marketing’ that was driven by Upworthy’s radical A/B Testing (A/B/C/D/E/F/G Testing) of headlines that led to massive growth in their media platform. The unintended consequence was a mass adoption of the method and metrics by every content marketer striving to increase traffic.

Now, in this apology (and infinitely shareable strategic repositioning statement) from Editorial Director Amy O’Leary, Upworthy are entering the already crowded ‘Storytelling’ market.

The point of difference appears to be in their perspective on bringing the best of the craft of storytelling to the emerging area of data driven stories. It’s not an entirely new idea (as this 2013 blog post from Juice Analytics illustrates) but given Upworthy’s proven ability to have a game changing impact on content sharing, this will be a space to watch.

Story wars

Not everything is a story. But ‘story’ is the trend in terms of marketing and digital in particular.

In organisations, there are a few camps in the story wars.

On one side we have the social scientists. In this group we have the behaviourists, the ethnographers, the anthropologists, who consider stories as a way of sense making, and of helping people create meaning (at work and beyond). The humanists. In the workplace, these are the change agents, the organisational psychologists, the culture practitioners.

On the other side we have the marketers. In this group we have the branders, the advertisers, the sales pitch creators. This group understands that stories told well create desires that can be met by products. The sellers. In the workplace, this is the sales and marketing team.

And then we have the creatives. Here are the people who have looked at the craft of story. The writers, illustrators, the performers. The tellers. These practitioners are not limited to one part of an organisation. A leader can be a natural at story performance. A researcher may be adept at finding the story within the data.

Types of storytelling

Daniel Pink tried to bridge these worlds in his book To Sell Is Human. He equates the process of storytelling with the need to create currency for ideas and in terms ‘trade’: we all try to persuade, every day. There is such mixed practice around what stories are and how they are used that frustrations sometimes boil over, as in this slightly NSFW argument by designer Stefan Sagmeister at a conference earlier this year.

Trevor Young, AKA the PR Warrior provides a pragmatic definition of organisational storytelling, the sweet spot between all the definitions in a recent post on this topic.

smart organisations look to storytelling as a way to gain a competitive advantage and use stories to help differentiate their brand in the marketplace; to be successful, these stories – and the perpetuation of them in the community in which they operate – need an organisation’s employees and partners to become involved. Essentially, it becomes a cultural thing.

Many communicators are caught between these worlds, and in the skirmishes. The challenge is to remember that in organisations we communicate for a purpose. Communicators have to find a path between these different forms of sense-making. They have to wear all of the ‘story’ hats and understand the difference between story sharing as culture, storytelling as motivation, and story as information.

Everyone IS a storyteller, because we are human. It is impossible for us not to tell stories. But there is a difference in kind between sharing stories around the contemporary campfire –  the dinner table, the water cooler, and sharing them in a public space (whether that space is real or virtual).

 

Help employees tell their stories with simple tools

The Universe is made of stories, not of

Crowdsourcing is a growing feature of organisational communication; but it is not entirely new. In near-bygone times of the employee newsletter, stories sourced from the frontline were a staple form of content. People like to hear what people like them have done. In particular, people like to hear how people like them have solved a problem, achieved a goal or overcome a challenge. These stories are the lifeblood of organisational life.

As digital communication expands the ability to capture and share stories, it is important to give employees tools and resources to help make their sharing effective. In particular, understanding the basic nuts and bolts of what makes a story a story is a useful reminder.

The four Ps – people, place, plot and purpose

This short video from the clever folk at StillMotion provides a beautifully simple model for helping people shape their information in a way that tells a story.

 

Once…then…then…

There are many tools that help people listen for, capture and shape stories. Various sentence structures provide ways of outlining the context, the characters and the challenge. Perhaps the simplest of these is the Pixar model (adapted from a range of sources)

Once there was a ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

There is always more than one perspective

Organisations are microcosms of the rest of the world. In the world there are millions of stories that overlap, different experiences of the same event. Any story-work within organisations or communities needs to recognise this diversity of experience.  This TED talk from novelist Chimamanda Adichie is a compelling example of how multiple stories shape our existence.

It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power. There is a word, an Igbo word,that I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world, and it is “nkali.” It’s a noun that loosely translates to “to be greater than another.” Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of nkali: How they are told, who tells them, when they’re told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power.
– Chimamanda Adichie

The idea of managing multiple stories in the organisation is at the heart of my work on ‘strategic story worlds

Keep it human

There is an abundance of material on storytelling available on the web. It is important to come back to the basics before embarking on any formal storytelling activities.

We are human, we are already hardwired to use story as our means of making sense of the world. By being conscious of this as a start point, it is possible to ensure ‘storytelling’ in organisations is not a trend or just a process to be followed to get people ‘on the same page’ but is instead a fundamental part of the sense-making capability of an organisation and its people.

What’s Your Company Storyworld?

It has been a great few days at the IABC    World Conference, and I’ll be writing up highlights for the blog shortly.

Until then, here is the resource page for my session on Transmedia Storytelling for corporate communicators.

The slides are available on Slideshare.

The subject sparked some great conversations, and I want to keep that going. Leave a comment or get in touch with your thoughts about how you can tell your corporate story in a different way.

Lord David Puttnam: Online commercial strategies have ‘actively damaged’ news and information relaying | The Drum

As part of Bite’s Stop Content Pollution event, filmmaker and digital ambassador Puttnam spoke about the challenge facing communicators in a crowded content marketplace.

I’d be very surprised if there were graduates coming out of media courses who had been told that their principle job is storytelling. I would be very surprised. They are being told that their job is impact. Lord David Puttnam

Lord David Puttnam

Lord David Puttnam

via Lord David Puttnam: Online commercial strategies have ‘actively damaged’ news and information relaying | The Drum.

Is Adobe Voice really a storytelling app?

When the interwebs went a little crazy for the announcement of Adobe Voice, the new iPad-based ‘storytelling’ app, my first reaction was skepticism. After all, ‘story’ and ‘storytelling’ are terms that get bandied around a LOT. Rather than be critical initially, I deleted a snarky tweet, went to the app store and gave it a try.

Wow. Let me repeat that. Wow. I created my first Voice in about 15 minutes. I’m not saying it’s going to win a Golden Lion, but as an example of what this can do a tool for pulling together an idea rapidly, you’ll get the idea.

As an occasional gadget geek, I have like shiny objects. But immediately I can see this has some real potential for helping people structure messages, think through what they want to say and get ideas across in a simple way. There are a variety of basic story structures to select from; promote an idea, explain a concept, share a personal experience, and even the classic hero’s journey. There are a selection of visual themes, the ability to draw from a broad range of icons, or the options to draw in files from the cloud, from Facebook or take a fresh pic on the spot. It is a very intuitive interface.

I’m excited by the potential something like this has for capturing ideas and helping people share their stories within organisations. In fact, I predict a Prezi like rush on people putting this to use. I’ll keep experimenting and save a longer post when I get some feedback from other #comms and #internalcomms folk.

In the meantime, give it a try and let me know how you would use this in your communication toolkit.

Note: I have no affiliation with Adobe and this is review is an independent perspective. 

Three types of stories encourage workers to be safe

Workplace storytelling is a powerful and effective tool for improving safety culture, because it’s more likely than “information and instruction” to provoke emotion and encourage workers to act, says communication expert Jonathan Champ.

Founder of communication consultancy Meaning Business, Champ – who is presenting a webinar for OHS Alert subscribers next week – says stories are “great for explaining the ‘why’ of a situation” and painting a picture of incidents.

They also create an emotional connection between workers and an issue.

“Sharing lots of stories of ‘what happened when we did this’, or ‘this is the problem we were having and then this is how we solved it’, is a really strong way of reflecting that culture is changing or that culture is developing,” Champ says.

Three types of stories that help improve workplace safety are warnings, quests and tragedies, he says.

He recommends storytellers – that is, anyone responsible for sharing safety messages – consider children’s fairy tales, which are “often very cautionary in nature”, when sharing stories.

“There’s an inherent human love of a bit of danger or a bit of risk, and a desire to alert people and say ‘look out over there, behind you’,” he says.

“The cautionary tale… is a really powerful tool.

“People engage with the idea that there was a problem or something went wrong, or there was harm or some form of risk.

“Finding ways to be able to illustrate ‘this is what happened, this is what the risk was, and this is what we did as a result’, is a very natural frame for being able to bring that [story] to life.”

People also enjoy listening to “quests” (how someone got from point A to point B), Champ says.

These kinds of stories should be shared when, for example, a safety campaign is held in the workplace. They show what the safety culture is like at the beginning of the campaign and the process of improving that culture.

Stories of workplace safety tragedies, meanwhile, provoke emotion in workers, which has been shown to drive behaviour, Champ says.

Storytellers need to ensure that no matter what type of story is told, it is credible, and ideally based on truth, he says.

Information versus storytelling

The “big difference” between storytelling and information sharing is that workers are involved in the storytelling process; providing information is “instructional and dry”, Champ says.

Information that is sent out as an instruction, process or guideline, and says “this is what needs to happen”, doesn’t reflect how people interact in their day-to-day environment, he says.

Stories help workers see themselves in a situation.

“Stories are how we make sense of the world… We’re kind of hardwired to take things in a story format,” Champ says.

In OHS Alert’s free subscriber webinar on “effective safety communication” next Wednesday, Champ will explain how to:

  • create an appetite for essential safety information;
  • amplify the safety message across all channels;
  • structure communication campaigns for the long haul; and build a committed safety culture.

The webinar will include a 20-minute Q&A session – click here for more information or to register.

This blog first appeared on OHS Alert.

IABC World Presentation : Transmedia storytelling for internal communication

In the era of the remix and mashup culture, I am really excited to be presenting a session on two topics that need to meet: transmedia storytelling and organisational communication. The IABC World Conference in June has me presenting the following session:

The end of the story: Corporate narrative in a transmedia universe

 Traditional approaches to corporate narrative are being disrupted by the multiple forces of technology, social change, trust and a shift in the role of the corporation. In this environment the role of the communicator is shaping, telling and retelling the story of the company is shifting. Employees are co-creators, subject matter experts are curators and traditional business models become opportunities for collaboration. This session will explore:

  • The death of the corporate story
  • Sense making through social media
  • Co-creation as a model for true engagement
  • Empowering employees to own the narrative
  • How IC is the original transmedia communication strategy

As the conference approaches, I will add some pre reading here on the blog.

http://wc.iabc.com/sessions/the-end-of-the-story-corporate-narrative-in-a-transmedia-universe/