Since the start of the year, like so many parents, I’ve been juggling work and homeschooling. For all its challenges, one of the silver linings has been helping my children with their English. We’ve spent lots of time looking at stories, and figuring out how they’re structured and why they’re compelling. It’s made me reflect on important story is in my own work.
So for the end of National Storytelling Week, here’s three simple but powerful ideas you can use now to bring communications to life in any organisation.
Have a beginning, middle and end
Even if you haven’t been teaching KS2 English lately, you’ll probably remember this adage from your own school days: every story should have a beginning, middle and an end. There’s loads of more complicated theories and models for story structures, but a three-part approach is a good place to start. In a corporate communications context, that means not jumping in to the ‘what’ of a new project or initiative without explaining the why – for example:
how were we doing things before, and what’s the problem with that? (set-up)
what will need to change, and what are the challenges we can expect? (action)
and finally what does the end goal or vision look like? (resolution)
We’re hard-wired to want to see a cause-and-effect progression, so whatever the context, look for ways to create a good narrative scaffold.
Make it personal
The best stories focus on just a few central characters. We need an emotional connection with an individual to engage us in their journey or struggle. Charities use case studies for good reason, as do politicians when they want to bring an abstract cause or policy idea into focus. At the Natural History Museum, we used the story of Hope the whale to bring the concept of conservation optimism and action to life, showing how one act of shared humanity brought the great whales back from the brink of extinction to a thriving global population. Individual stories can transform all sorts of communication, from a leader’s speech to an annual report, so don’t be afraid to get personal.
Ask the dramatic question
Story hinges on character. It’s one reason why they work better with a personal focus. Will Storr in his book The Science of Storytelling argues that the power of every story rests in a single dramatic question: ‘Who is this person?’. We can – and do – ask the same question of organisations, and it plays out through brand. An organisation’s brand carries the weight of character, and it should sit at the heart of every piece of communication. Before sending anything out into the world, ask how does this tell the story of who you are? Whether it’s intentional or not, you’ll be communicating your values, the essence of how you like to work, or your bigger purpose – sometimes all three. So the more you engage with the dramatic question, the better you can shape your relationship with the world around you.
I started Fielding Communications to do work that’s rooted in a love of drama and great writing. I like to make things simple. And I’m here to help organisations tell their story and create positive change. But I didn’t need to say that, did I?