Over the past few months, I've noticed that "storytelling" has become a hot marketing buzzword.
Branding agencies and consultants are embracing the notion that storytelling creates an authentic connection with your customers. There's a growing crop of programs that teach you to tell stories in your own business.
As a customer experience consultant, I think this is good. I've long said that businesses focus way too much on data, numbers and processes and not nearly enough on telling an engaging story that customers and employees can connect with.
Stories are memorable. We all recall childhood fables like the Tortoise and the Hare. If you grew up in any kind of religious tradition, you likely remember those stories too. We are riveted by stories of tragic accidents, bizarre crimes and celebrity misadventures. Disney has built its entire brand on engaging its customers through stories.
But stories aren't just useful tools for entertainment and customer engagement. They are also a powerful way to change employees' mindsets and foster greater connection within an organization.
Telling Stories to Get a Point Across
In my business, I use stories to convey messages that will help an organization improve its Customer Experience. It seems that it is these stories that are often remembered well and repeated back to me when revisiting clients! I tell these stories in keynote speeches, using slides to emphasize points. I tell them in blogs, in the books I write, and in the webinars we offer. Stories help people connect a concept to a real-life experience. They deliver a message and challenge long-held beliefs.
PowerPoint is a great tool, but its downside is that it encourages business people to develop presentations based bullet points connected to data. Data doesn't give you an opportunity to connect emotionally - unless you really, really like math. Stories, on the other hand, have a power to connect people to one another through similar thoughts and emotions. When I tell you about the day my mum died, chances are you'll have an emotional reaction because you once lost someone special too. You and I might be as different as chalk and cheese, but we understand each other through that emotional experience.
The latest season of Game of Thrones has brought all sorts of people together online to speculate about the next plot twist. Will Jon Snow ultimately defeat the White Walkers? Good vs evil. Families and destiny and revenge. It could be Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings or Star Wars - the great stories engage us and bind us together.
In the workplace, compelling stories can bring employees together to achieve a common goal. For example, when employees hear stories about their co-workers' customer experience successes, they may feel inspired to try new things. Hearing about mistakes can also be empowering, especially for new employees who need to see that you can succeed at the company even if you make some blunders along the way.
This is important because employee engagement overall is abysmal. A Gallup World Poll shows that only 15 percent of employees worldwide are engaged at work. In the U.S., the figure is closer to 30 percent, but that's still nothing to crow about. Gallup's CEO thinks the answer is "high performance coaches" who will help employees develop through ongoing conversations that focus on employee strengths. As opposed to the standard performance review that looks at metrics and highlights things to improve.
Sharing stories is a way to make this work. Stories can bridge the gap between employees and managers and build trust and confidence that benefits everyone. Whether you tell a happy story or a tragic one, you bring team members together because they share the same emotions around the anecdote. And when employees tell their own stories, they show their authentic selves to their managers and co-workers.
For example, this article described a group of realtors in a session with a training firm that specializes in storytelling. Each realtor was coached and then told a story to the group about a grandparent. Through these stories, the participants learned what shaped their co-workers' personalities, and began to see them in a different light. The stories forced people to let their guards down, and thus were far more effective than a staff party or meeting in bringing them together.
We humans are born storytellers, and we are always listening to and sharing stories. Facebook even calls its users' posts "stories." When we work with customers to design a customer experience, we use stories to explain why change is needed and how it can be achieved. When you combine stories with guidance and reinforcement of good work, you can guide your employees toward better engagement and improved productivity.
Never underestimate the power of a good story.