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My conference presentations and workshops constantly evolve. But all of them build on the concept of sharing stories for long-term success and with the customer in mind. Before heading to Chicago in April 2017 to speak at a global sales conference I designed a new exercise. It’s part of evolving the learning experience for attendees.
Often I do a version of this exercise:
I ask attendees to share a personal story with their neighbors. Often the room is filled with smiles and engaged conversation. It usually is hard to get their attention back to me. That’s the whole point to show how stories work and engage.
But at this April 2017 conference I added another exercise immediately following:
I asked attendees to now tell that same story or a similar story from their companies’ points of view and voice.
I tried to set it up as an easy task and said “this one will be even easier.”
Of course, I knew that wasn’t that easy of an exercise. I even had one attendee wave me over and say that he couldn’t figure it out. That it was too hard. I just listened and he said: “maybe that’s the point of the exercise. It’s harder than it should be.”
It is. The whole point was to show how unnecessarily hard it is to tell organizational stories. And this wasn’t even a live event. This was just practice so to speak.
When I asked for volunteers to share their stories the first person started by saying: “this was so hard. So much harder than the last one.”
Of course it is so hard because many organizations have way too many levels of approval to share any kind of organizational stories.
And we didn’t discuss running this by the communications team even.
The mood for the second exercise was much different as well. They weren’t too many smiles and more barriers. Should I be sharing this?
It was really a good example that we need to make things simpler. We need to make the process easier. We need to actually allow our employees to share our stories. They already share them anyway. How do we make it a formal process that can be implemented and scaled for the good of the company, customers, prospects and the employees and also future employees.
The other thing is that second exercise was way more energy draining than the first one. In fact one could argue that the first one wasn’t energy draining at all. It was energizing. But during the second one we had to think too hard and too long and wondered whether or not the story could be shared.
Storytelling really works best when it’s done in a simple process. For example, I’m sitting outside at a café in Chicago and I’m dictating this post to my phone. In a moment I will read it again and then publish.
I didn’t have to run it through 15 channels of approval. I just determined it’s a story worth sharing and I’m sharing it. Period.
I understand that there need to be some checks and balances in corporate communications. Somebody ultimately still has to be responsible for what the stories are that are being shared. But how about one check and balance. And how about making it nimble and maybe even accepting. Find a way for the stories to be published and align them with business goals.
They don’t need to be filled with marketing gobbledygook. Just share something that establishes your organization as a true and authentic subject matter expert and in the case of recruitment as a place that people actually want to work. Just be sure the stories are authentic and true.
Establishing that intentional culture of storytelling is a lot of work early on but once we get going the corporate oversight should go down and results should go up.