Humans have thought in images and stories since time immemorial. In contrast, it is only for the last 30 years that people have made widespread use of a clinical, PowerPoint-based style of communication. As a result, this type of messaging is not readily granted entry by the ‘doorkeeper’ or ‘bouncer’ in the brain. Have you ever wondered why audience members nod off during a presentation but stay up until 3 a.m. reading Dan Brown, even when they have to wake up early? Quite simply, reports as such are boring while stories are interesting. This is why gossip and rumours travel further and reach more listeners than memos and fact-laden in-house emails. If you don’t tell your own story, someone else will tell it for you.
While ‘You never get a second chance to make a first impression’ is a common saying in management and human resources, it does not appear to have filtered through to the world of corporate communications. The opening sentence of a corporate brochure or mission statement is often so dull, insipid and interchangeable that it almost sends the reader to sleep. This is problematic, because effective storytelling depends on arousing interest from the very first moment.
The hero and villain appear in all good stories, but rarely feature in corporate communications. Every story needs a hero and every hero needs a villain. There is no Adam and Eve without the Devil, no Luke Skywalker without Darth Vader, no Superman without Lex Luthor. Yet in business, communications frequently fail to allude to the hostile threats on the horizon.
Employees know better, which leads them to indulge in gossip, to accuse their own ‘bad guys’ and sometimes to resort to cynicism. Good storytelling helps companies to openly address the dangers that confront them without lapsing into a cynical mindset. This, in turn, can offer a solution – the happy ending!