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Are We Overthinking Storytelling?

storytelling for better communications

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.

Strategy For Impact Founder and Lead Consultant, Jessica Payne

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.

PRO TIP: Overthinking storytelling is real and nothing to be ashamed about. It actually means you’re invested in getting it “right” and that’s good energy. The key is to channel that energy into something more productive. Reach out to learn how I help teams redirect that energy and improve their communications strategy.

Why Authenticity Matters Now More Than Ever

Does telling the truth have a place in a “post-truth” society when the public doesn’t always believe the facts?

I’ve been chewing on this over the last few weeks and with greater anxiety over the last few days. Maybe you have too. You’ve seen the headlines and the crowds. You’ve seen reputable news organizations called “fake news” and the gaslighting. We’ve all seen the comment feuds between family or friends — maybe even your own — on social media. It’s soo awkward, but so telling to see just how divided people are sometimes in the same community around the subject of “fake news” or largely, what is real.

My teeth ache from the grinding. Or maybe I should lay off of the coffee. (#nevergonnahappen)

I don’t want to get too far from my question… And no, this is not a political rant. I didn’t march alongside 750,000 people this weekend just to get my 10,000 steps in! I did it – and saw many of you there too – because I believe in building bridges and unity from all walks of life.

Yes. Truth has a place. It is fundamental to empowerment because it’s putting information into the hands of everyone. It’s our choice what to do with it.

Truth matters. Authenticity matters. And it matters now more than ever.

In fact, just this week the Public Relations Society of America issued a statement on Alternative Facts, including a link to their code of conduct. You should read the entire statement. One sentence stands out to me:

“Truth is the foundation of all effective communications.”

YES. YES YES. Isn’t it, though? Think about your must trusted and valued relationships. They are based on truth and trust. The statement is powerful. Reading it lit up my core. I’m proud to be in this industry and serve as a PRSA-LA board member.

Now, more than ever, we must not only continue to advocate fact-based and open conversations, but we must find new ways to resonate with a public that is increasingly exposed to “fake news” discourse. What I’m getting at here is much greater than making sure that next white paper or social media campaign is backed by fact. That goes without saying. What I’m getting at is mitigating a deeper issue and that is the emotional impact being lied to, or feeling like you’ve been lied to has on a person over time.

According to Psychology Today:

“When people in positions of power lie, you not only become disaffected with them, but you become disaffected with the institutions they represent…As we lose faith in them, we lose faith in ourselves.”

That’s probably why we all feel crummy right now. So, where do we go from here?

I think it goes back to remembering our most valued relationships and the fabric that keeps them going. Trust, openness, forgiveness, flexibility, authenticity.

Authenticity is a huge deal to me as you may already know. It’s built into my business, into the strategic best-practices I use and teach to my clients. It’s helped empower me on a personal level.

So how can we use authenticity to improve relationships, build trust and create opportunities to connect with a public that is increasingly skeptical or cautious at best?

On a personal level, I’m going to remain open to and pursue healthy discourse, but I strongly feel that it’s my duty to recognize the difference between those who are equally open to it and those who aren’t. I’m going to work with those who are willing to learn, collaborate or improve conversations. I’m going to remain open myself as I can be hard-headed too and tell the haters, “good day.” And with compassion, I’m going to be myself and speak my truth.

On a professional level, I’m going to work with my clients to bring more authenticity into their programs because it’s good for business. Some ways include:

  1. Meeting with my teams and putting “trust” as the agenda. Taking a look at our marketing/communications strategies for the next year and scrutinizing the activities. Ask if they are too self-serving. Am I creating enough opportunities to create genuine dialogue with the public focused specifically on building trust?
  2. Rating my brand’s authenticity. Am I what I say on the tin? Meaning, do accurately reflect my purpose and values in my day-to-day operations? Maybe you’ve outgrown your original purpose. That’s OK! But now’s the time to reflect and realign. If you don’t know your purpose and haven’t declared one, do it because that’s increasingly what today’s consumers demand.
  3. Bringing the outside in. Opening the doors wider to allow more of those who are interested inside. Here’s an idea if you have any big launches or events coming up. Ditch at least one planned exclusive this year and see what happens when you invite more than just one or a select few of influencers inside to cover your latest goings on. Use those opportunities to focus solely on enhancing your relationships and getting to know one another.  Because, why not?

At the end of the day there are people at other end of our news coverage, marketing events and online campaigns and cash registers…And if we focus on building trust with them – either personally or professionally, or both; treating them just as we would our most valued relationships, I think we have a shot in rising above this “alternative-facts” world. Don’t you?

We specialize in empowering brands by infusing authenticity-based online strategies into their programs. If this blog post resonated with you. Contact us.

PS/ My latest podcast explores a pretty cool notion that has to do with the law of attraction. Instead of trying to outwit customers into doing what you want them to do, think about how you can serve them (and only serve them) so that they can accomplish their goals.