7 Ways Storytelling Improves Communication

Different stories serve different purposes

Everyone loves a good story. Stories ignite our imagination.  Stories or narratives have been shared in every culture as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation and instilling moral values.

Engaging TV dramas, cartoons and movies which we are all so drawn to, are all storytelling on the small and big screens.

In the same way, in the business world today, storytelling is widely used by managers and leaders to communicate with their audience. Some stories are crafted to motivate people, some stories are designed to share knowledge. Some stories may be told in order to spur action, others may be used to share your background and experience with your audience.

Depending on your objective, here are 7 different varieties of storytelling.

Objective 1: Sparking Action

A “springboard story” to inspire change.

Getting people to change is not easy. To achieve that goal, you need to communicate the complex nature of the changes required. The story enables listeners to visualise the transformation required and then to act on that realisation.

The story should describe how a successful change was implemented in the past, but allows listeners to imagine how it might work in their situation. It should be detailed enough to be intelligible and credible, but not too detailed such that the audience forgets about its own challenge.

Objective 2: Communicating Who You Are

Build trust with the audience by letting them know you better.

For someone to trust you, they need to know who you are, where you’ve come from, what you do, why you hold the views you do.

Stories for this purpose are usually based on a life event that reveals some strength or vulnerability, and demonstrates what you took away with the experience. Such stories are detailed and colourful, but make sure your audience has the time and interest to hear your stories.

Objective 3: Transmitting Values

A story or parable to establish values in an organisation.

Such stories or parables have been used by religious leaders to communicate values since olden times. These stories are usually set in some kind of generic past and have few context-setting details. They must feel familiar to the audience, so as to prompt discussion about the issues raised by the value promoted.

The characters and situations may be hypothetical, but they must be believable. Most importantly, in order to be effective in transmitting values to your audience, the story must be consistent with your own actions.

Objective 4: Fostering Collaboration

Encourage conversations by sharing stories.

Generate a common narrative around a group’s concerns and goals, beginning with a story told by one member. Ideally, this first story sparks another, which sparks another. If the process continues, members develop a shared perspective, creating a sense of community.

This first story must be emotionally moving enough to inspire others to contribute their own stories too. Make sure enough time is allocated to this sharing session so as to allow all members to share.

Objective 5: Squelching Rumours

Use humour to mock the rumour.

The magnitude of rumours and gossip in an organisation would depend on its culture and overall structure of the company. Rumours about the future of the organisation can be a huge source of distraction for the employees.

Denying a rumour can give it credibility. Asking how it started can ensure its spread. Ignoring it risks allowing it to spiral out of control.

One solution is to use a story to convince listeners that the rumour is untrue or unlikely. This kind of story highlights the incongruity between the rumour and reality. It often use humour to mock the rumour in an effort to undermine the rumour’s power.

Objective 6: Sharing Knowledge

Communicate know-how across an organisation with stories.

Stories that share knowledge include a description of the problem, the setting, and the solution. These stories tend to have a negative tone because they highlight a challenge. They often focus on the mistakes made, and why a particular solution worked.

Though unentertaining, these stories are the uncelebrated workhouse of organisational narrative.

Objective 7: Leading People Into The Future

Offering a glimpse of the future.

A leader is often tasked with preparing people for what lies ahead  – whether in concrete terms of an actual scenario, or the more conceptual terms of a vision.

A story can help by taking listeners from where they are now, to where they need to be, by offering them an image of the future.

Such stories evoke the future without providing excessive details that may turn out to be inaccurate. Listeners should be able to modify the story in their minds as the future unfolds with its unexpected twists and turns.

People are more likely to overcome uncertainty about change if they are shown what to aim for, rather than what to avoid.

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