Once Upon a Time
I have been hired by several municipal organizations in the last year to document complex, innovative projects. The projects involved a large number of people from several departments or organizations at the political, managerial and operational levels. I was asked to interview the key stakeholders and to prepare a report that would serve as not only an archival record of their accomplishments but also a how-to guide for other organizations.
Taking a journalistic approach, I incorporated quotes and specific anecdotes into the reports. The reports integrate information from a wide range of people and convey not only facts but emotions. Storytelling techniques make the reports far more interesting and provide a much more adequate sense of what was involved in the project and why it matters.
Stories Teach and Inspire
Why do we enjoy listening to stories? Chip Heath (author of Made to Stick, as quoted in PresentationZen) says “What we yearn for is to listen to an intelligent and evocative – perhaps at times even provocative – human being who teaches us, or inspires us, or who stimulates us with knowledge plus meaning, context, and emotion in a way that is memorable. And that is where story comes in. Information plus emotion and visualization wrapped in unforgettable anecdotes are the stuff that stories are made of.”
Quotes and Interviews
I edit a monthly sales newsletter for Axon Development Corporation. The centrepiece of almost every issue is an interview with a satisfied customer. The customers explain, in their own words, how the product has saved their company money and how easy it is to use.
Listening to an actual customer, who is providing specific anecdotes, is far more compelling than simply listing the benefits of a product. For example: “So it’s probably saved the two of us at least 20 man hours per week each. It’s incredible. And I’m a carpal tunnel sufferer so it’s helped me there too because I don’t do hours and hours of repetitive data entry any more.” (Corina Roth, Tempo Transport Inc., Software News, June 2008)
Tell Me a Story
People like stories – from bedtime stories for toddlers to soap operas on television. But we tend to forget how powerful stories can be when we’re writing for business. That’s a mistake. Stories about your company's latest accomplishment or about a customer’s experience with your product are an extremely effective way to convey information.
(For further information, take a look at the electronic newsletter of the International Association of Business Communicators. They devote a whole issue to Storytelling.)