Ideas for Sharing Stories in a Negative Environment

February 2021
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When negative news dominates the headlines, how can we get positive stories about our organizations heard? It’s crucial that we think like the reporters who often convey our stories. This can be achieved if you find narratives that inform, inspire and invigorate our audiences.

As storytellers, we’re tasked with reinforcing our organizations’ missions, visions and cultures. This job does not change, even during a pandemic or times of anxiety and uncertainty. But to determine whether a story will engage our audiences, we must ask ourselves: What is this story about? Does it convey a positive message about our organization? How would our audience connect with this story? And would this story motivate our audience to action?

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the environment in which we share our stories has changed. Stakeholder reactions to our stories have also been altered. We should remind our audiences that, while the story we tell them has shifted, our organizational purpose remains constant. As communicators, we’re still dedicated to our organizations’ missions and core values.

Stories with heart

Storytelling is the ultimate communication tool, and PR pros can harness its power to reach and motivate audiences. A good story will reach the minds and hearts of those who hear it. Indeed, connecting emotionally with our audiences has never been more important than it is now.

The audience’s minds might be interested in the facts of a story, but their hearts will feel the emotion. Authentic connection occurs in the heart, so we should tell stories with characters who exhibit emotions. We can reveal their personalities as they smile, laugh, cry or show surprise.

To motivate stakeholders to action, we must capture their hearts. If our stories move audiences to envision themselves in the characters’ shoes, they will become invested in those characters, relate to them and feel for them. 

Comforting messages

During turbulent times, people seek comfort. That comfort might take the form of food, clothes, movies, etc. Audiences seek comfort through optimistic, motivational and inspirational stories. We can fulfill that desire by telling stories that highlight the positive attributes of our organizations and showcase their commitments to their principles and objectives.

Humanizing images 

Even a multifaceted idea can be expressed with a single image, so we should include visuals that let audiences quickly absorb large amounts of information. For example, we might show a picture of a family talking with one another and smiling. The audience will assume the people in the picture are happy. They will feel a connection with the people in the photo as they recall joyful times with their own families. Such images humanize companies and illustrate their consideration for stakeholders — not just for their bottom lines.

New perspectives

If you have a difficult time finding cheerful, hopeful stories to tell, turn to your colleagues and clients. Ask what inspires them to come to work each day or to remain loyal to your organization. As communicators, we sometimes overlook heartwarming stories because we haven’t seen them through the perspective of a co-worker or customer. 

Memorable stories

I am sure that you enjoy a story that is entertaining, but that should not be the only reason that you tell a story. We also have to communicate stories that help audiences recall and understand our organizations’ messages. Still, when we have organizational messages to convey, we should wrap them in a compelling story.

Storytelling is proven to be more effective for helping people remember crucial information. “A story is up to 22 times more memorable than facts alone,” Jennifer Aaker, marketing professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, says in a 2013 YouTube video. 

Stories that build credibility, morale

The stories we tell affect the reputations and credibility of our organizations for both internal and external audiences. As storytellers, we need to tailor narratives to each group of our stakeholders. If we seek to build morale and pride among our employees, for example, we might tell them a story about a colleague who has excelled in his or her job, or highlight a charitable initiative that our company has supported.

To maintain credibility and a good reputation with customers, clients and other external audiences, we can tout our company’s achievements — but we shouldn’t focus solely on financial successes. Instead, we might highlight how our organization’s products and services benefit people. Or we might tell uplifting stories that emphasize the talents, tenure and good spirits of our employees. People are drawn instinctively to authentic, encouraging stories. 

Many things have changed recently, including our working environments and the narratives that we share with our audiences. But one thing has not changed. In a quote often attributed to the poet Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

Return to Current Issue The Art of Storytelling | February 2021
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