Need inspiration for great stories? Look at the human experiences that shape you and your business. Great stories are everywhere. You just have to know where to look!
Inside and Outside the Organization
1. Your values and big purpose – how do you help people? What’s the cause you are committed to that’s bigger than you? It’s never about just your products. For example, Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ message is bigger than her and Facebook itself. She’s done more than inspire people to ‘Lean in’ – she’s created a movement bigger than herself. It’s not the whole conversation to be sure – but it’s a hell of a great starting point to inspire others.
2. Failures and challenges – how you have overcome them?
3. Imperfections – to be imperfect is to be human (note: I am very human!).
4. Successes – in balance. All successes and no failures is PR spin.
I suggest mapping out all the highs and lows in your business and use those as teaching points. How did you achieve something and can you share that so others can learn? How did you overcome failures and what valuable lessons can you teach others based on what you learned? Stories are amazing teaching tools.
Employees and Partners
5. Employees are close to the front lines and to your customers. They have great stories to tell. GE is doing a great job here lately, as an example. It’s important that employees understand the larger company message, of course. Let them take that brand message and tell it their way. And if you are an entrepreneur without employees, all the more reason you need to develop great stories: people won’t remember your services or everything you do; however, they will remember great stories. That’s how you achieve storytelling scale.
6. Your customers have great stories. They will tell your story in ways you haven’t thought about. Customer-generated content is great earned media people share what they create.
7. Your partners are doing interesting things with your technology, products and services that help their clients be better. Share those stories.
Create Hope and Optimism
Stories that are problem-solution oriented aren’t as exciting or interesting as stories that talk about an underlying human need being met, healed, helped. When you go bigger and speak to a human need – for reputation, credibility, security, justice, equality, recognition, safety, or visibility, for instance – you tap into something fundamentally visceral and memorable. Meeting a big human need leaves people feeling hopeful and optimistic – and this is what every great story has at its core.
Be Open and Document
Keep a story journal. Stories can exist in lots of things. Keep open. If you are a bigger company, create a bank of stories that are internal and external, and accessible to all employees so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel constantly. These will help marketing, sales, customer service – everything. Stories are part of a culture and any great organizational DNA. Pay attention to the stories being told by employees – that is a barometer for organizational health.
The Power of Imperfection: Show a Little Skin
I have joked often about “naked storytelling” and there is truth in comedy. Stories that teach and leave a piece of you behind are powerful. We need to give our audience something they can hold onto – and that means showing a piece of who we really are. Let down that mask. It’s OK to be a bit vulnerable to show who you really are and what you stand for. That’s where the emotional connection is. Great storytelling raises the emotional stakes. When you show your imperfections, you make it OK for your audience to embrace theirs.
Product stories are OK once in a while – make sure they go bigger than just helping a customer make money or save money. How did it make their life better? What’s the human message? Go there and you will never be boring. Your stories, your business, and your customer relationships will be better for it! Boring is a choice.