Telling Tales: Never forget the moral of the story

Never forget the moral of the story from ego creative official on Vimeo.

For communications professionals everywhere, storytelling can be a truly effective way of expressing a message and ensuring that it’s properly absorbed and understood.

But it’s not simply a case of just telling tales. As we explain at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) annual internal communications conference this week, the key part in driving home your point and successfully connecting with your audience is to be crystal clear about the moral of your story.

Changing employee behaviour

The theme of this year’s CIPR Inside event, taking place at the Kia Oval in London, is “Changing Behaviour for Better Business”.  Say the organisers, “Changing behaviour should be at the heart of everything we do in internal communication – helping the businesses and organisations that we work with to do business more effectively, efficiently, safely, truthfully and responsibly.”

Ego Creative is delighted to be sponsoring the CIPR conference and will be on hand to show how an innovative, creative approach to internal comms can be the most powerful way of reaching out to employees and changing behaviour.

And one of the most important weapons in our creative armoury is the notion of storytelling.

The magic of storytelling

Storytelling is a really great way for a business to connect with its employees on a deeper level, helping to ensure that what is being communicated really is understood and remembered.

Where opinions need to be influenced, instructions imparted or attitudes changed, storytelling can be the answer. Stories deal with emotions and with sentiments. They frequently contain drama, challenges, a mountain to climb (figurative or literal) or a problem to solve.

They encourage empathy and understanding – and as a result they can inspire, motivate and unite a workforce. And at the same time they can explain, in really clear and engaging terms, the benefits of adopting, for example, a new way of working or a different set of values.

Storytelling can be metaphorical or analogous. Story source material can be found by scouring the history books, seeking out quotations or just switching on the news. Often, real life experiences from within the workplace can be one of the best sources of stories.

A storytelling toolbox

Communications consultant and storytelling guru Annette Simmons has through her work with countless organisations identified a total of six core story types that form a storytelling toolbox:

1. “Who I Am” stories – this where the narrator describes a time, place or event which explains who they are and why they are qualified to guide, instruct, lead or influence. A “Who I Am” story creates transparency, helps forge trust and dispels wariness.

2. “Why I Am Here” stories – alongside highlighting how the audience will benefit, this type of story also explains what’s in it for the narrator. By being upfront and open they will not only gain their audience’s attention but also their trust.

3. “Vision” stories – these are about using a tale, be it real or metaphorical, to inspire and motivate by illustrating how the effort required by, for example, a large project, task or some other significant endeavour, will ultimately be worth it.

4. “Values in Action” stories – shared values are important to the cultural foundations of an organisation, but are frequently subjective – so finding ways of communicating them is crucial. “Values in Action” stories can help by showing through specific examples what each value looks like in terms of people’s attitudes and behaviour.

5. “Teaching” stories – here the storyteller helps the audience learn a lesson by describing, as Annette Simmons puts it, “an experience that lets him or her see, smell, taste, touch, hear, and feel a real situation in all its ambiguity, time pressures and real life issues”. As such, this is much more likely to succeed than by simply offering advice or giving instructions.

6. “I Know What You Are Thinking” stories – these tales win the audience over by first demonstrating understanding and sympathy for their goals and fears, before then proceeding to dispel these objections through logic and insight, providing reassurance and building trust.

And the moral of the story is…

Knowing which type of story to tell and identifying which form of storytelling best suits your needs is clearly an important initial consideration. The second consideration is the narrative – the actual story itself. Of course the relationship between the two can work both ways, with either one defining the other.

But whilst all your creative energies and imagination may go into crafting your story, it is vital that you don’t lose sight of your original message, your reason, your goal.

Like all the best fairy tales of our childhood, at the conclusion of the story as the hero or heroine’s fate is finally revealed, the audience should be left in no doubt as to what the purpose of the story is and of the lesson that they should have learned.

Cast your mind back to those fairy tales. They were all about the moral of the story and through them we learned that:

- We should follow our dreams and intuition (Jack and the Beanstalk)

- Greed is most certainly NOT good (The Goose that Laid a Golden Egg)

- Never judge a book by its cover (The Ugly Duckling)

- It’s important to plan for the future (Three Little Pigs)

- The mirror never lies (Snow White)

Without their moral, these stories wouldn’t be half so profound, nor so significant and important to our own development and understanding.

And it is exactly the same with storytelling in business communication.

Delivering the punchline

A great story might succeed in grabbing attention, engaging minds and delivering a memorable tale. But if you lose sight of the core message and fail to deliver the punchline – the “moral” of the story – then your storytelling will have been in vain.

Neither does it help to be too subtle, too clever in spelling it out. In a business context, where everyone is time-poor and information overloaded, it is crucial that you leave your audience in no doubt about what your story is trying to say and why you are saying it.

So whether you’re using stories to change employee attitudes, to introduce new procedures or to drive cultural change, with any type of storytelling you should always make sure the magic doesn’t confuse the moral.