10 ideas for internal story-telling

A view of a messy desk with glasses, post it notes, a mug and a piece of paper that says the word charity on it

Talking about real life situations for real life people is incredibly powerful as part of a charity’s communication mix. Stories can bring in new funding, inspire changes of policy and highlight less well-known causes. They pack an emotional punch that pure statistics or facts rarely do.

But I’ve lost count of the number of times over the years I’ve had to remind my client organisations to also use that power internally. Teams can be so focussed on using their stories to engage external audiences that they forget internal ones.

Internal story-telling

Here are my suggestions for telling stories internally in a way that engages your audience.

1. Tell unexpected stories, particularly of leaders.

This can be a great way to build empathy and relatability. For example, a CEO who also volunteers for your charity and therefore understands the challenges and successes in different ways. Or a Communications Director who has lived experience of the issues and injustices you aim to eradicate.

2. Ask people to share their own stories.

This gives them an authentic voice. Be prepared for the fact that it may take a lot of encouragement to get them to share, often because they don’t recognise that their own stories are anything special.

3. Use the technique of releasing a story in chapters or episodes.

This is a great way of building interest and engagement. If the characters at the start of your video are compelling and relatable, people want to know what happens to them next.

4. Create characters that people relate to, as well as situations that they recognise.

This gives you the opportunity to move those characters into a future vision of what it will be like when things change. You can use visual techniques, such as a cartoon-style storyboard, to show the characters under piles of paperwork now and then put them into the future world where everything runs more smoothly (because they use the new knowledge management system you plan to introduce).

5. If you want your leaders to be story-tellers, you need to help them understand the benefits that stories bring about for your organisation.

Giving them some simple principles and steps to follow to build a story also goes a long way. They will feel more comfortable if there are tools to support them.

6. Don’t just tell people your story. Ask for their views and stories.

What does the campaign mean to them? How have they helped to achieve this vision themselves? Making a story real and tailored to different teams or individuals has a bigger impact on them.

7. Use a storyboard

It’s a great way to pull together your ideas for the different elements of your story before you tell it to others. You can develop the characteristics of your hero (someone to relate to) and your villain (a shared enemy to defeat), as well as identifying the trigger for the journey to start and the challenges along the way.

8. In the right circumstances, a light-hearted story can help to get serious points across without putting people off.

With increased remote and flexible working, we are learning to see our colleagues’ lives through different lenses. This in turn can open up a less formal mode of communication that still makes a contribution to the work in hand.

9. Remember to use stories to highlight the things which are going to stay the same in the future, not just the ones that will change.

For example, a virtual tour of a reopened, socially-distanced office can show that tea and coffee making facilities are still available on every floor, even if there is a large vat of hand sanitiser next to it.

10. Use time-lapse story-telling to show how things have already changed.

For example, you can use stories to show how people lived with a certain health condition 50 and 30 years ago; then look to the future vision of living with that condition when medical techniques and lifestyles have changed again. If you are telling the story visually, you could even start with sepia tones and move on to brighter, more modern colours.

What’s your stories advice?

If you have techniques for story-telling internally that have really made a difference at your organisation, leave a comment or send me a message to tell me about it. I’d love to hear about tips to add to the list.

Until next time

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