Everyone has a story and for some of us, telling our story will be the biggest thing we do in our lives. Easy for some, monumental for others. Some will never tell their story out loud, yet it will broadcast through every single one of their actions and life choices. Regardless, it is our why and informs what we say and how we listen. It informs whether or not we choose to listen at all. This is important to remember in communications. It’s our job to empower individuals and organizations to reach their audiences through storytelling. This only works if you have an audience willing to hear what you have to say. Sounds simple enough. Yet, in a competitive marketplace where everyone’s clever, it’s tempting to overthink this process and lean into strategies that emphasize optimization when we should be leaning into humanity a bit more.
I truly think there’s a happy place where “algorithm awareness” (I just coined that phrase) and organic human storytelling can co-exist. Where SEO and regular conversation can be neighbors. I see it in places like social media and podcasts where genuine conversations about failure, mistakes, and lived experiences are part of the main focus and branding less-so. Where cleverly-worded posts are being replaced by almost stream-of-conscious journal-length entries weaving culture and values into spaces normally left for promoting products and resources — where comments are starting to look a lot like an ongoing conversation.
When communicators embrace a storytelling process where vulnerability and success are equally championed, we free ourselves from wordsmith calculus and return to free-flowing conversation led by the sharing of real experiences. It’s less predictable, but I’d like to think a much happier place to be.
So, what can communicators do?
Start by remembering that everyone comes from somewhere. Everyone is going through something — including our listeners. Remembering what they deserve to hear (our truth from a real human) can keep our strategies grounded when we feel the tug of SEO or perfection calling.
Host a meeting where your team does nothing BUT discuss your org’s why. Retrace the steps of your organization, its founder, or its original mission and consider why it’s changed. See if there’s anyone in the group who emerges as a natural storyteller. Pay attention to how they speak and how others listen and why. Audit online spaces to find out how your audience prefers to be seen and heard and what they want to hear from you about. Compare and contrast. Think about ways you can amplify those conversations. Forget your KPIs for a second. Forget the HOWs. There’s a kernel of a story emerging right in front of you but you can only hear it if you listen.
It’s our job to empower individuals and organizations to reach their audiences through storytelling. This only works if you have an audience willing to hear what you have to say.
For storytellers and listeners, this is a much better experience. For communicators, this gives us the opportunity to lead with conversation first and maybe even extend the life of our programs. We just have to keep it simple.