5 Steps to integrate powerful storytelling into your communications strategy

‘Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.’

~ Robert McKee

Government Communication is no longer just about sharing programs, projects or policies; it’s about presenting them through a story.

When we think about storytelling our first thought is often big brands and organisations that have exciting, extraordinary messages to share, or that storytelling is reserved for creatives, writers and entertainers. But that’s no longer the case. Storytelling is a powerful tool that can amplify your communication strategy, getting you great results.

Now you may be asking, why do I need to jump on board with yet another strategic tool to amplify my communication? It’s simple; if you don’t your message and mission will fall on deaf ears or at best it will take longer to reach and engage your desired audience.

It’s basic marketing that facts tell and stories sell. And for the government, stories are used to move people to act. Citizens and their communities are the customers and it’s about how we want to make them feel.

Putting our stories to work is sharing a message with meaning; so why not shift your audience’s response from ‘that’s never going to work’ to ‘great, let’s give it a try’?

Here are five steps you can take right now to integrate powerful storytelling into your communications strategy.

Step One: Do more of what you are doing already

Stories are not just for creative minds, we all can share a story. And the best part? You do it already.

Think about the last time you spoke to a friend or colleague and shared something that happened to you. You told a story. If it included the details of who, what, when, where and why then it was likely an interesting story, or at least engaging.

Whether it was a near-miss with the driver that pulled out in front of you, the weekend soccer match where your child scored the winning goal, or simply what you had for dinner, it doesn’t matter. Though they may seem minor events, the key point to remember is that your story, through personality, conveyed emotion. And that’s how you captured their attention.

Tip: In your business storytelling match emotional words with your audience. Be intentional and use words your audience will identify with.

Step Two: Leading through storytelling

Storytelling is a key leadership tool. There are good stories and bad stories and it works differently to how you might think. A good story is not just about how great you or your department is because no one is interested in a straight success story, they need more than that.

Instead tell them how you struggled and strived, overcame challenges and created a win and earned your success. This can work for your department or agency, it makes for great, engaging stories and earns your audiences praise.

Tip: It’s important in your storytelling to share audience-centric content that’s not just about your objective. It puts your audience first and is something they can relate to or identify with.

Step Three: Use more flow and less formatting

There’s a time and place for bullet points, summary charts and graphs to inform and educate but in storytelling, different rules apply. Your story is the glue that keeps it all together and gives the audience something to remember.

Building that story into your communication strategy and execution helps your message flow coherently and clearly guides your audience. It also helps them take away key learnings from your program, project or policy, creating stronger awareness and engagement.

And remember when formatting to know what your audience wants and give it to them. Ensure the story you’re weaving into your communication takes them along for a ride, accelerating your audience’s know, like and trust factor.

Tip: Use names when possible, this makes scenarios more memorable. Pick a name and reference it throughout, humanise your content.

Step Four: Small steps, consistently

Storytelling is a long-term communications strategy building both empathy and trust. It won’t be one story that brings transformation or moves your audience to act, but over time, through consistent stories, you’ll see them move.

And when executed well, stories create a ripple effect that continues long after it’s shared. But remember, it takes consistency to believe in openness, whether for a program, project or policy.

Another strong tactic when telling these stories is to trigger conversations to spark another story. Once you know what your audience wants to hear, get them involved.

In your content ask questions that will take them to a moment they’ll talk about. For example, ‘why don’t you tell us what happened when *insert event* happened?’ Try to avoid open-ended questions where the answer can be just one word.

Tip: Never ask someone is ‘share a story?’, this will have the opposite effect. People will just freeze on the spot and not respond.

Step Five: Listen as much as you talk 

After telling a good story, don’t forget to listen.  What does your audience have to say in response? And what can you learn from that feedback?

When listening gets comfortable with the silence, often as facilitators and leaders we are taught to keep talking. But pausing comfortably for some quiet time allows for creative voices and sparks new conversations.

Listen intently because what they say can be of great value you to. Keep in mind, whilst you are listening, that something anticipated must happen in your story. It’s not simply a factual recount of events. It has to have a point with a clear ending.

Tip: Listen with intent, it helps to find what you’re looking for.

Putting these five steps into practice will elevate your storytelling and listening to form a successful part of your content strategy. Demonstrate your organisation’s values in your stories and remember, sharing stories gets more stories.

If you had a choice, would you listen to trivial material told brilliantly or profound material told poorly?

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