A common theme this afternoon at the Front End of Innovation conference was using storytelling for powering innovation and navigating change. Noelle Chun, Storyteller & Digital Strategist for Yahoo!, provided “a highly tactical, practical useful guide to storytelling in a corporate setting”. In her presentation, she answered some common questions about corporate storytelling.

Why stories? Anthropologists have found that stories exist in every single culture. Something about stories is inherent to how we pass on our values and how we communicate with one another. “While we may dismiss stories as tales of old or scary stories to keep children from making mistakes, we can embrace storytelling as a business discipline. Just as we have in civilization, we can use stories in convey values in our business internally and externally.” Good stories answer the fundamental questions about a business: “Where do we come from? Why are we here? What is our place in the world?” Used properly, stories are an incredible vehicle to help drive businesses forward. We can move stories “from ancient Greeks to modern geeks.”

What comes first? The most important thing first is to set your values, as these will be the platform for all your stories. Which of our values are nonnegotiable? What will we not compromise on? Who are we, and what is important to us? “The most important thing in company storytelling is consistency, consistency, consistency! Find your place in the world, find your heart of being. Then you can use the storytelling process to inform innovation: where are we going, and how will we get there?”

What makes a good story? There are three key qualities that characterize a good story:

  1. Memorable – An aspect of a good story will have staying power: a particular image, a proof point, an anecdote—“the element of your story that will lodge itself into the hearts and minds of people you are talking to”.
  2. Engaging – A good story will address the audience with both head and heart.
  3. Actionable – A good story in a corporate setting must be effective: it must leave the audience wanting to do something. What is the takeaway they are going to implement after they hear the story?

How do you make a good story better? Use “the 3 ABCs” to improve a story:

  1. Always be clear – Make sure the story is as simple as it can be. A simple story will echo around the company.
  2. Always be concise – “If they can tweet it, they can tell it.” Tell it in 140 characters—or in six words. To refine a story, Yahoo likes to tell it in six words, a meme popularized by The New York Times.
  3. Always be setting context – Make sure to use industry proof points so that your listeners can understand the significance of your story.

How do you drive adoption of this story in a corporate setting? You have to make it easy for stakeholders and listeners to understand. Then make it easy to find, using existing social media platforms and internal platforms like Salesforce, intranets and mailing lists. Make it easy to say yes to the story – align it with stakeholders and their goals. Make it easy to distribute: create formats of the story that people can easily send, share, copy and paste. “I like infographics – it is very hard to disassemble an infographic, to take the elements out of context, and an infographic is very easy to send over email or to paste into a blog post. We actually devoted a whole initiative to creating infographics around our stories.”

Even if your company doesn’t have a corporate storyteller, these tips will help you tell the stories that can grow your business.

Author Notes:

Jeffrey Henning

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Jeffrey Henning, IPC is a professionally certified researcher and has personally conducted over 1,400 survey research projects. Jeffrey is a member of the Insights Association and the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers. In 2012, he was the inaugural winner of the MRA’s Impact award, which “recognizes an industry professional, team or organization that has demonstrated tremendous vision, leadership, and innovation, within the past year, that has led to advances in the marketing research profession.” In 2022, the Insights Association named him an IPC Laureate. Before founding Researchscape in 2012, Jeffrey co-founded Perseus Development Corporation in 1993, which introduced the first web-survey software, and Vovici in 2006, which pioneered the enterprise-feedback management category. A 35-year veteran of the research industry, he began his career as an industry analyst for an Inc. 500 research firm.