Getting Pushback On Using Storytelling? What To Do About It

Say the word  “storytelling” and usually two images arise — mothers reading storybooks to children and an older person sitting around a campfire spinning a tale. While most people today recognize that stories are infinitely more interesting than a stale marketing message, the idea of using this concept makes many business leaders roll their eyes as if to say, tell a story? really?

But, if your job is communications, then you owe it to your organization to explore this communications tool. Below are some of the most common objections to using storytelling in business along with some ways to counter these prejudices.

Objection #1: If I talk about myself, I’ll be labeled a narcissist or worse, a marketer. The truth is that people are interested in other people. If you think about your latest case study or customer testimonial, wasn’t it all about how someone was affected? By telling a story that talks about the change you or someone near you experienced, you are actually creating the highest form of relevance.

Objection #2: I will sound too emotional or unprofessional. Make sure your stories are relevant to your audience. So, this means if you are speaking to someone who takes action because of an emotional appeal, by all means, throw in some of that. But, if your audience is seeking something more academic or bottom line-oriented, then it is all a matter or choosing the right tone, including the language, the setting, the lesson learned, and the characterization of the people in the story.

Objection #3: I can’t get my story into 5 sentences! Who says your story has to be that short? But, if it is long, then be sure to throw in some interesting anecdotes, colorful characters and actions that bring people along. Remember, there is a difference between telling the truth and being accurate to the point the truth is lost. What you must do is tell a complete story. Identify: the characters, the setting, the action, the change that occured, and the lessons that were learned.

Objection #4: My story’s not that great. Are you sure? Again, what happened? To whom? What happened along the way? What was interesting? What would be interesting to your audience? The idea is to describe something in a story format.

Objection #5: My story won’t sell. You won’t know until you try. What are you trying to “sell?” Your journey? The lesson learned? The end result? The people? Identify what you are trying to accomplish and stay true to that goal. You have to believe in your story for it to resonate.

3 Pitfalls to Avoid in Corporate Storytelling

Want to include storytelling in your corporate communications? Avoid these three common pitfalls.

1.     Good story, wrong audience. Or should we write, good audience, wrong story? If you are speaking to a group of people in the hospice industry you would not tell a story about your rock climbing injury that keeps you from reaching the top of Mount Everest. That may be an obvious example, but don’t forget the more nuanced scenarios.

2.     Not enough suspense or twists and turns. Stories have to have a beginning, middle and end. But, they also need to have some air of unpredictability to be interesting. Catch your audience off guard and you will have caught their attention. But, remember number one above. Make sure the twist is appropriate.

3.     Too much corporate jargon.  This goes for marketing speak, too. Because if you believe your 24/7 enterprise solution brings mission-critical projects to fruition, adding to the corporate bottom line and realizing a greater ROI than the other guy down the street – and you describe it that way – you have successfully put your audience to sleep. Or, running from the room.

Develop your story and then check to see if they fall into these traps above. Edit and repeat. The world loves a good story. Be sure your attempts at introducing storytelling stay out of the snares.

5 Great Articles on Storytelling and Messaging You Should Read today

If you are like me, you are indundated with media. Who has time to read or view everything? Below are five excellent, recent articles on the topic of storytelling, positioning and messaging. If you can take 30 minutes to read these five, you will be well on your way to better communication.

1. From Fortune magazine. Why You Should Cool it With the Corporate Jargon

2. From Forbes magazine. Why Leadership Storytelling is Important

3. From Open Forum, American Express’s small business portal. The 7 Deadly Sins of Business Storytelling

4. From ZDNet,  A meaningful customer experience starts with good communication. Good Storytelling and Why “Commodity” is a State of Mind

5. From Financial Times, why CEOs should learn to tell stories. Fables for Board Tables