Apr 23 2010
One of the evolving trends post-apocolypse is a renewed interest in storytelling, and it’s with good reason. The facts don’t suffice — never did.
Executives are on the hook for a lot these days, having to stand up for all that happens in their organizations and certifying that everything adds up to those numbers you see in the financials. Capital ratios, loan loss reserves, bad debt, sales volume and a host of other “data” have been substituting for the story, and the result has been an epic failure.
The art of PR has always required storytelling, and in a world of increasing compression (Powerpoint; Twitter anyone?), the practice is under attack. Add to the mix our pals the lawyers and the accountants who have taken over much of what passes for communication, and you are left with a world in need of coherence and in possession of 140 characters, a king’s ransom in bullet points and the dry, just-the-facts rest. One more disturbing trend is the slimming down of newpapers and magazines via the internetification of news and commentary.
First, there’s the big picture storytelling. Steve Denning made his reputation in part by helping leaders learn the art. PR counselors could do worse than buying the leader of their organization or client his book The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Art & Discipline of Business Narrative. An important element of the plan to increase the storytelling quotient in organizations is to help the leaders deliver the stories. Denning has recently posted some audio from a storytelling program at the Smithsonian symposium, among other interesting comments. He’s even been accused recently of abandoning the storytelling horse that brung him and saddling himself with management speak, so worth a read!
But, there also are some other things we should collectively pledge to do something about. Maybe we should start with presentations. Cliff Atkinson argues for better presentations in his Beyond Bullet Points, and his blog covers the front on creating better presentations, including interviews with others. As a guy who has suffered through some of my own presentations (and watched others who follow the “just read the slide” mantra), I’m in.
Another place to exercise the story muscle is Twitter. Kathy Hansen’s blog A Storied Career, takes a look at storytelling related to career advancement, and has given some attention to the story-as-tweet(s) possibilities. Smith Magazine’s Six-Word Memoirs series is currently fascinating me again, and the discipline of documenting you life in six words is a good challenge. I am amazed by the inventiveness of the writers. One example of advice to President Obama in the Six Words to Inspire a Nation series: “For every bomb, build a school.”
Headlines that serve as labels are also places for story telling. Which is better? “Acme Widgets Announces Earnings” or “Acme Widgets Sales to Asia Boost Earnings”? Headlines and story content have, perhaps perversely, been raised to an even more important level in an SEO world. See Cindy Kim’s post Why Bad Healines Can Kill Good Content, for tips to improve your story’s ability to break through.
Whether we PR advisors are helping executives tell stories to influence and persuade employees, regulators, analysts or shareholders in a turbulent time, balancing details with inspiration in change initiatives, creating more collaboration in the workplace or using storytelling techniques to build better leadership behaviors, the place to start is with our own communications . Applying our talents to even a few of these areas will go a long way to creating trust and relationships with our audiences.