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Unleash the power of storytelling: Build trust, win hearts and change minds

Emma HanleyEmma Hanley·
Unleash the power of storytelling

There is nothing more engaging than a great story teller and Rob Biesenbach knows all about it, especially the invaluable role storytelling can play in the world of internal communications today.

Rob is a communication professional, an actor and very much in-demand speaker, and last month we collaborated on what turned out to be  a wonderful and inspiring webinar, focussing on unlocking the secrets of storytelling, creating more innovative programming to build trust with target audiences. It also looked at how to make features on corporate events more interesting and, very importantly,  how to influence the C-suite!

Here’s a taste of some of the questions and answers from the webinar:

Q: What do we need to think about telling stories via video  rather than slides or text? Any important differentiators to consider?

Rob:

Different channels are going to require different things. Video is a great way to tell stories and it is probably second only to being there in person in terms of communicating something in a powerful way. It is important that videos are short, as the average person’s attention span is short.

I’ve worked with clients who had 10-minute videos thinking that they would work for employees because their own employees are a captive audience. I think this is really wishful thinking in this day and age. Just because people are present in a room and aren’t allowed to leave does not mean that they are present in their mind and paying attention.

There are other great ways to tell stories, such as Twitter, especially through the Storify application when you do a tweet storm and accumulate them all into a narrative on Storify.

The main piece of advice I would give is to adapt your content to whatever channel you are using. There are no hard and fast rules, basic communications practice needs to be applied.

Q: How do you deal with leadership when they want more and more details added to the story?

Rob:

This is common. Firstly, I would present leadership with some of the evidence of why that detail they are looking for doesn’t matter.

Secondly, I would look for role models, people in their industry or outside of their industry, people in business that they admire or respect or a potential competitor they fear, and people who are doing it right, and show them.

Thirdly, I would try to enlist an ally within the organization, somebody who also believes, who has influence with that executive.

Finally, I would try to find some breakout star, somebody who really believes in these principles. I’d showcase someone who is getting positive feedback from audiences and with proof that it works, it is something again you can shell into the doubters.

Q: What are some best practices to humanizing your C-suite executives in a rapidly growing company?

Rob:

Encouraging your C-suite executives to go out and meet people face-to-face is a big thing. Get them to share their stories in an informal way that relates to employees.

An interesting example to study is that of former Ford CEO, Jacques Nasser, who every Friday afternoon would compose an informal email to every employee of what happened in that week. He also included some personal observations from what he learned from talking to a customer or employee he met during the week and what their thoughts were on a particular topic.

This was a great model for communication, encouraging people not to write dry blog posts that are written about policies but sharing something about their own observations through video, in person, through Q&A, web chats and other vehicles.

This leads to less scripted, more authentic, more heartfelt communication.

Q: How do you evaluate the role of segmentation in communications (create different stories for different types of roles with different jargons)?

Rob:

First and foremost, the key is finding out as much as you can about your audience’s needs. In my book I go through lots of questions about the audience. Who are they? What do they want? What do they know? I really dig deep into the research because if we don’t meet their needs we’re not going to be successful. It’s not just about what we want, it’s about what they want.  

An external audience is going to have a different knowledge base than an internal  one, therefore information needs to be adjusted accordingly. What are their doubts and fears in this perception? What do you have in common? What is their mood? There are all kinds of questions you can ask about your audience to refine and target a story to their needs.

Q:  What are you tips if you work in an environment where the audience are not normally versed in communications?

Rob:

That goes back to what I talked about earlier – how do you convince non- communicators of the power of stories and how do you get them to let go of the details. That is a really tough thing. That is the important thing about focusing, it is very hard for any of us to divorce ourselves from the facts of our everyday life and all of this knowledge we have, and say:  this is the important stuff and this is the less important stuff.

It is really just a process, you have them create their story and then you work with them and chip away bit by bit. Think about your audience, I do this all of the time, I work with insurance executives, lawyers and engineers, and tell them that nobody will understand certain pieces of data, or nobody outside your industry really understands that type of language, so that is our job –  bring that real world view to them.

Q:  What are some easy ways to introduce story-telling to an organization that historically has pushed back on such stories (e.g., fact-based information sharing only) ?

Rob:

I would go back to sharing some of those articles from the research, some of the science behind it, sharing some of your favourite Ted Talks, some of the articles about Ted Talks and the way they are changing the world and changing people’s ideas about how information should be communicated.

There are lots of case studies about Steve Jobs. He is held up as an example for practically everything, from innovation to leadership and many other things, including being a master salesman and communicator. Look for role models, look for evidence and start with that.  

Q: How might you help engage a workforce who have under gone a tough year of cuts?

Rob:

Many of my clients are manufacturing companies and all of them have gone through hard times, and probably continue to, and it is a tough thing. You have to show empathy, but empathy will only get you so far because people want to know how they are going to put food on their table.

You have to start out by understanding where people are coming from, the world they are living in. You have to do as much as possible to soften the blow and communicate in a frank and honest manner. You have to get as much information as possible and tell people: here is everything we know right now and as soon as we know more we will share it with you. Above all we are going to be as transparent as possible. Hopefully people will say, ‘I may not like what they are telling me but at least they are being honest with me’. So you go for some of the small victories in what may be a very tough battle over time.

Q: Some of the stories that I have to feature in my staff magazine are coverage of corporate events. How do I make these features more interesting?

Rob:

I go back to Malcolm Gladwell, he looked at psychological phenomenons, for instance, Hush Puppies, and how that became a huge trend amongst hipsters and spread all over the world. He’ll take a single person and focus in on that character. To make the feature more interesting, find one single person who got something out of that event, whether it was a member of the public or an employee at that event. Jump into the story, don’t say on December 17th we held this fascinating event with 72 employees participating and we were working with this charity. Just start with, Hannah who works in the IT department had a real revelation the other day, she was talking to somebody and this happened and it really changed her whole outlook on the certain topic, and then get to the piece that it was part of the larger event, so jump right into the action and find a great character with an interesting story.
The webinar offers a simple process that anyone can use, to find, shape and tell better stories on behalf of their companies, clients and brands. If you missed it, you can watch here in your own time.


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