Video tech giant Zoom has always been proud of their company culture, believing that in order to deliver happiness to their customers, their employees should be happy at work. And this was reflected in numerous accolades for ‘Best Place to Work’ throughout the early 2020s.
But, Zoom recently caused controversy when the CEO made the decision to bring employees back to the office stating “remote work didn’t allow people to build as much trust or be as innovative“. For a company whose purpose is to enable immersive collaboration from anywhere, this must have been a big wake-up call. So what went wrong?
It seems that Zoom has more recently struggled to digitally unlock those human work experiences which build the connections and culture needed for real business impacts.
One common challenge many organisations face right now is a lack of workplace storytelling. And, working in an age of exponential change it’s impossible to achieve an effective culture where employees thrive, learn and grow without it.
Storytelling gives employees licence to share knowledge, improve how they communicate, build trust and make connections businesses need to drive the best outcomes. A great story has the power to improve employee engagement, learning impact, productivity, brand loyalty and more!
But, whilst stories play a central role in how we learn, thrive, and connect at work, not everyone is a natural storyteller. It takes a particular set of skills and techniques to translate work into something much more powerful: work stories.
These essential storytelling skills and techniques for businesses should be the focus for smart companies looking to establish a good foundation of workplace storytelling!
Essential storytelling skills and techniques for businesses
Whilst many skills are considered useful for sharing stories, these six are essential storytelling skills in business:
- Active listening skills
- Reflection skills
- Critical and strategic thinking
- Emotional intelligence
- Communication skills (including timing and confidence)
- Self-editing and codifying
Active listening skills
According to good old Wikipedia “Active listening is the practice of preparing to listen, observing what verbal and non-verbal messages are being sent, then providing appropriate feedback for the sake of showing attentiveness to the message”.
In a nutshell, active listening is all about understanding what people are REALLY saying. Focusing on how they are saying it and picking up on subtle cues will help craft a story people can relate to. But what does this mean in a storytelling and a business context?
In a corporate storytelling arena, it means really engaging with your customers, employees and other stakeholders. Take a proactive and attentive approach to understand their feedback and needs by hearing their tone, asking deeper questions and paraphrasing back to confirm understanding. This will help you connect and empathise which in turn builds your ability to tell a compelling work story.
According to a Harvard study, reflecting on work experiences that include surprise, frustration, and failure are most valuable in helping leaders learn and grow in their careers. Those stories are the most impactful but require a high level of self-reflection. This is a skill that doesn’t come easily for most employees (even leaders) with 82% of people struggling to pause, reflect and codify their experiences. But when they do this, performance improves.
Reflection skills are indispensable for business storytellers because they allow people to go beyond surface-level facts and figures. By reflecting on experiences (including failure) we can build on lessons learned and those pivotal moments which fuelled a reaction, triggered a lightbulb moment or a change in direction.
By reflecting on these experiences you can craft valuable stories that not only inform but also inspire strategic thinking, and foster discussions and innovation. All are critical for personal growth, improved productivity and business success.
Take this case study from London Business School. During a 6 month Leadership Development Programme, participants were asked to reflect on their experiences at key intervals. This reflection process enabled them to:
- Embed their own learning
- Create essential knowledge transfer
- Share how they’ve applied learning in a video story format
I’ve got better comms skills, a new way of seeing things and can understand people better than before. My plan is now to spread knowledge across our organisation to drive innovation.
LBS Programme participant
Critical and strategic thinking
The importance of critical thinking in business can never be underestimated and it is an essential storytelling skill to master.
We’re bombarded with content and using readily available data can be tempting but how do you know the data is trustworthy? With the Edelman 2023 Trust At Work report showing distrust in the media is high and trust in the government isn’t far behind, critical thinking is more important than ever.
Additionally, today’s business environment is complex and fast-paced. This opens up more space for assumptions, biases, or incomplete information in storytelling, especially unchecked facts resulting from Google or Chat GPT.
Critical and strategic thinking can help you align trustworthy data with your business goals and assist you in engaging a diverse audience. A great business storyteller needs to think about the potential impact of their work story on the intended audience(s).
Critical thinking also means you’re capable of evaluating if your work story will inspire the desired outcome – essential in a fast-changing business environment.
McKinsey predicts by 2030, demand for social and emotional skills will grow across all industries by 26% in the United States and 22% in Europe. And with the exponential advancement in technologies such as AI, it’s emotional intelligence (EQ) and the human touch that will allow workers to excel compared to their machine counterparts.
But what has emotional intelligence got to do with storytelling skills for businesses? A great story should impact behaviour and to do so you need to be able to connect to your audience. Having this skill as a storyteller enables empathy and a real understanding of your audience’s challenges and needs. It’s emotional intelligence, and aspects of this like self-awareness, that means you can recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others.
At present, AI tools fail to show authenticity because it’s the human connection, and investment in what real people are enduring or achieving, that’s essential for creating a compelling story.
Communication skills are essential when it comes to storytelling. After all, storytelling is in essence a form of communication.
But business storytelling goes beyond what is typically considered good communication. Whilst the two are related, they are not synonymous – being a great communicator does not make you a great storyteller.
The communication skills needed to be a good storyteller in business involve the ability to use narrative techniques that engage, inspire, and persuade others. It’s about framing information or ideas within a compelling narrative structure.
It feels important here to mention two other factors that contribute to effective communication and storytelling:
Confidence in storytelling means having belief in yourself, your subject matter and your ability to convey a message effectively and honestly. It allows you to engage, persuade, and connect with your audience – aspects we’ve already discussed.
But the high prevalence of imposter syndrome and other modern workplace maladies often impact workers’ ability to effectively share what they know. So it’s no surprise only a few have the confidence needed to tell a great workplace story.
Women in particular struggle disproportionally with 75% of female executives reporting imposter syndrome in their careers.
Overcoming the effects of imposter syndrome and developing the ability to project belief in your own story no matter the size of the stage is a hallmark of a good business storyteller.
Timing is not everything, but it is a skill every storyteller needs. Good timing helps the narrative unfold to keep audiences engaged and delivers a satisfying experience from beginning to end.
It involves planning an engaging narrative, staying on topic, knowing when to emphasise key points and much more. Each story element is then delivered in the most effective way for your desired outcome.
Self-editing and codifying
In practice, not everyone has the ability to find the words and right message when sharing a story. This is particularly true in business where topics can be complex, and translating your experiences into an engaging format can be a challenge.
To be effective, a story needs to be concise, on-point and valuable to the audience. This is sometimes easier said than done and why ‘editing’ techniques are needed to use storytelling in business. Without them, people are likely to share too much, too little or something that’s off topic.
A great storyteller is able to codify and transform work experiences into a digestible story people can learn from. These skills help them to plan their narrative arc and make sure they include the most important messages keeping their goal front of mind. If a storyteller does this, it means your organisation will benefit from knowledge transfer, the spread of good practice, behaviour change and more.
As an added bonus, being able to codify and self edit will avoid the hidden costs of corporate storytelling, particularly when it comes to video. A well executed story can reduce costs and time associated with pre-shoot engagement, interviews, on-the-day support and post-production.
How to build storytelling skills for business
Developing storytelling skills has traditionally been the privilege of leadership. But why should these essential future skills be limited to a small percentage of a business? Isn’t it much more impactful for both stronger performance and work cultures to democratise them and empower every employee to become great storytellers and better leaders?
But, how can anyone develop these skills? This is where technology can help.
While these storytelling skills are essential, they are often hard to build upon, particularly at scale. With budgets getting smaller and teams expected to do more with less, running storytelling workshops and events is not cost-effective or scalable.
Many businesses are moving towards co-creation and user-generated content as a solution, empowering employees to become storytellers in their own right to share valuable workplace stories their coworkers can learn from.
The idea of user-generated content is not new. After all, we all have access to one social media platform or another. But whilst businesses are realising that collaboration is cost-effective and scalable, ensuring a high-quality end product as well as developing storytelling skills is something of a challenge.
Video storytelling is just one example. Simply giving your employees a way to record their story won’t build the skills they need. In fact, it’s the equivalent of a blank sheet of paper. But with the right technology, you can give them the confidence they need and guide them to share valuable, on-point employee stories whilst developing those essential storytelling skills.
StoryTagger uses structured storytelling and reflective practice techniques to bake these skills into each step of the story sharing process. Automated story design, ready-to-use templates and engagement tools allow you to embed employee storytelling into all of your programmes and campaigns.
Zoom’s recent decision to bring employees back to the office highlights the challenges of today’s workplace. If a platform whose mission is to connect people anywhere is not able to do so, how can other businesses? But Zoom, like many others, appears to be missing a key element to bridging this gap: effective workplace storytelling.
Corporate storytelling is a much-needed linchpin for building trust and fostering innovation. It is not enough to rely solely on online meetings and traditional communication methods. Instead, organisations must equip employees with these essential storytelling skills; active listening, reflection, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, communication (including confidence and timing), self-editing and codifying.
Today, with the help of technology, these skills can finally be democratised for everyone without sacrificing quality. This in turn enables businesses to benefit from so many things. Not only cost and time savings involved in effective use of storytelling, user-generated content and co-creation but also knowledge transfer, spread of good practice behaviour change and more.
The best way to find out how to develop business storytelling skills and how stories will transform your HR, learning and comms campaigns is to see StoryTagger in action. Why not book a demo today?