Zain Jaffer is the founder and chairman of Zain Venturesa family office that invests in real estate and proptech.
We often see corporate communication as something other than storytelling. The first belongs to the domain of utility and objectivity, while the second belongs to the domain of emotion and persuasion. However, this distinction is a false dichotomy. Business communication and storytelling must go hand in hand to take your message to the next level and inspire others.
Great stories can survive thousands of years and touch millions, even billions of lives. When business leaders focus solely on the power of the result, they miss the deeper, more universal magic of a good story. Far from being a mere PR tactic, good storytelling can be the foundation of everything a company is and does. Whether you’re communicating with shareholders, employees or the general public, what you say and how you say it can make a big difference in how your brand is perceived.
Share with shareholders
While shareholders make their living by carefully analyzing hard data, emotional factors play a role in any investment. Bringing storytelling into your presentations can breathe new life into these critical numbers, helping shareholders understand and preserve the data more effectively.
Many of the tried and true techniques writers and storytellers use are equally applicable in the business world. The greatest stories usually contain an element of change or transformation, usually achieved through a major conflict or decision. Finding those inflection points in your own business story — for example, when you transitioned from a startup to a scale-up or launched a new product or service that put you ahead of the competition — and increase the use of data to support them demonstrate shareholder confidence through cause and effect.
It’s also crucial to remember one of the most masterful arts of storytelling: the cliffhanger. Talking about past successes can help shareholders believe in senior leadership’s decision-making skills, but the prospect of an exciting future can help investors become strong advocates who are personally committed to your company’s long-term vision.
A company of storytellers
Adding a personal touch to stories can be useful in the boardroom, but is quite indispensable in communication within a company. The best leaders are those who inspire others to become leaders themselves, and this is best achieved by telling authentic, relatable stories. Executives who internalize their company’s story and tell it in an engaging way can motivate people in a way that presentations and charts never could. Everyone who has founded a company has a story to tell – a story of sacrifice, struggle, learning and triumph. By being honest about everything that goes into building a business and using anecdotes effectively, employees feel connected to both the company’s story and personally to leadership.
At a former company, a client told me that our services helped him earn enough income to quit his job and pursue his entrepreneurial dream. When I shared that with my employees, it helped energize the team and create a qualitative shift in the way we saw what we were doing. We didn’t just sell an effective service; we were changing the lives of our customers. This changed the way we communicated with our customers and with each other, and I believe it contributed to our success.
With regard to the public
Telling stories to a wider audience is a synthesis of the other two forms of corporate communication. As with shareholders, data-driven narratives are essential to build trust and excitement; as with employees, stories spread through word of mouth are most effective.
Nothing looks better for a business than having customers as volunteer advocates. Internally crafted PR campaigns are, of course, powerful tools, but the stories that emerge from real-world interactions will most powerfully shape the public’s perception of a company. While it’s impossible to fully master these types of stories, companies can exert some influence on them by practicing what they preach and making sure that customer interactions always embody their core values.
All forms of corporate communication work together. While it may seem difficult to negotiate all these levels, the solution is actually simple. Rather than view storytelling as an outward-looking asset, executives should see it as essential to the company’s inner core. When a story is authentic and speaks to people personally, it becomes much more than advertising. In this way, business leaders can make optimal use of their position and influence.