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  • Inside Out Communications Consulting

Business storytelling: how to build a story for your digital transformation

You may have heard the shocking statistic that 70% of digital transformation initiatives fail. Failure to communicate change properly or to engage employees sufficiently are often key reasons for this. This is where storytelling can help excel your digital transformation communications.

Business storytelling has soared in popularity over recent years. With many leaders and organisations now seeing the value of storytelling over data-heavy messaging, stories have become a key technique to inspire, mobilise, and energise audiences.

Storytelling is so effective at cutting through the noise because of our biology. Stories appeal to our highly emotional brains and activate many areas of the brain at once. This leads to an emotional response, as well as the formation of long-term memories. On a practical level, stories stick in our minds longer than data.

Research also shows that when we listen to a story our brain activates in the same way as that of our storyteller, a phenomenon known as neural coupling. This tells us that storytelling is a highly effective way to connect with those around you. This is also supported by the release of oxytocin (the love, trust, and bond hormone) when we listen to a good story.

So you know the benefits of storytelling, but how do you build a story for your digital transformation?

Identify your message

Take a step back from your digital transformation plans, and identify the message you want to share with your audience. By message here we mean the core moral, lesson, or reason to believe that you want your people to understand.

This can’t be an email consisting of ‘we are automating several internal processes to allow our clients to receive their proposals 25% faster’. It needs to be a short, meaningful story that begins with something like ‘for as long as I can remember, our company culture has been based on giving our all and producing work of the highest quality'.

Alternatively, imagine an internal email which tells you ‘we are moving our processes to the cloud so that they can be accessed from anywhere during remote working throughout the pandemic’. It leaves those reading it uninspired and not caring a whole lot.

Now imagine building a story about resilience, and about making an opportunity out of adversity. About using a pandemic, which keeps us physically apart, to scale up on technology which allows us to work together. As you can see, the imagery and emotional response are very different.

Tapping into emotions like pride or excitement makes the difference between storytelling and simply recalling data. One creates imagery and messages that stick, and one recites fleeting numbers.

Incorporating your personal experiences

Once you have identified the key message that you want your audience to know it’s time to mine your personal experiences for a story. Think about the life events that make you believe in the idea or moral you are trying to share, and brainstorm any suitable stories that you can relate to your people with passion.

For some inspiration, common story themes include mistakes and failures, unexpected opportunities, risk and reward, choices and consequences, lessons learned, obstacles and challenges, advice from a mentor, or an inspiring figure in your life.

Perhaps you are digitally transforming your company intranet and cyber security protocols for your people. Why not talk about the time you failed to spot impending danger on a bike ride? Or the time you didn’t turn your house alarm on because you were only popping out for 10 minutes? Or the time your child came to you with a strange alert message on their iPad?

Don’t worry if you’re not the protagonist of your story, if the story seems too short, or the connection between the story and your message seems too loose. It doesn’t need to be blockbuster material to share your message effectively. You will be able to build a lot of depth into the story through reflecting on your own emotions and those of others.

The key here is to show vulnerability and make yourself relatable to your audience. Never make yourself the hero of your story. You should be learning a lesson or facing a challenge so that your audience can empathise and connect with your position on the digital transformation.

As a leader, disclosing experiences where you may have made the wrong decision or taken a risk you shouldn’t have, and the lessons you had to learn, is a great way to engage and inspire your people. It builds trust, encourages openness, and shows that you are fallible yet successful all at once.

Developing your story

A great story answers three questions:

  • What is the context?

  • What is the conflict?

  • What is the outcome?

Your story should also build and release tension, leave you changed, and communicate value. Practice makes perfect so read over your story as many times as it takes to get it right. If it feels wrong don’t be afraid to go back to the drawing board.

Once you find the perfect topic, why not play around with the structure? The beginning, middle, and end don’t have to go in that order. You can start with the middle and move on to the end before going back to the beginning where the central message lies.

At this stage it is also important to get rid of details which don’t add to the impact of your story or your message. It’s important that your story is attention-grabbing throughout, otherwise you risk losing your audience.

The case for storytelling in digital transformation

Storytelling should be a key communication tool throughout your organisation’s digital transformation. Your people can’t attach emotion to impersonal figures and statistics about a new technology or internal process.

Building a key message into a story allows you to add emotion, and allows you to relate important messages, lessons, and morals to your people in a way that sticks. This can help you to communicate the importance of digital transformation in a way which is genuine, and elicits empathy and understanding from your listeners.

So give it a go! Start by identifying your key message, and build it into a personal story you can share with your people. You may be surprised at how natural storytelling feels.

This is part one of our storytelling guide. Come back in a fortnight for tips on performing your story and maximising audience engagement.

We can’t wait to hear the stories you come up with and the messages you want to share with your people! Need some feedback? Send us an email or visit our website

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