The Spark Blog

An occasional series of thoughts and reflections on the role of narrative in organizational change, branding and knowledge work

guide to storytelling for internal communicators: part 3

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In the third and final part of our guide we’re going to focus on shaping stories.

What are the most important elements in great storytelling to effectively engage employees with corporate strategy and purpose?

We are convinced that stories can bring strategies to life. It’s about leaders telling memorable stories that inspire and shift behaviour and also about the stories people across an organization share with each other. Most of all, great storytelling is about stories that are told with, not to, and their impact is strongest in the dynamic they create, not as static objects. They help eyes open a bit wider. Some elements include: 

  • Seeing yourself in the story | stories that show what’s happening here, to me, now or translate a concept or idea for me, into my world
  • Listening and telling | it’s an exchange and listening takes time
  • Making meaning from the words on the page | strategy, mission, values… are often full of obscure language. Stories can unpack these words by showing examples of how they come to life. What does teamwork mean, for me, here, now? What does innovation mean to us, together, and what do we need to do differently? 

Our blog posting on The Lego Movie has some additional thoughts on this topic and about how engaging the process of shaping a story can be in itself. This piece on engaging and equipping might be useful too.

Story has a number of components but what are the core principles communicators should focus on to start with?

What works here touches on two things: finding stories and putting them to work. All stories are good stories but some are better, depending on what you want to do with them. For example, a cafeteria anecdote about the soup of the day might not go far on stage during a strategy roadshow but could be very effective for a leader trying to humanize their presence in a small group.

But back to the question and here are some questions to help answer it:

  • Is the story authentic, did it really happen?
  • Does it have character, place, time? Is it specific enough that you can imagine yourself in it or see it happen?
  • Does it travel, and will it be relevant to more than its teller?
  • Is it adaptable to many formats, eg can it be long/short, a talking point, an article?
  • Does it have impact, is it memorable? What makes it memorable and relevant?
  • Does it say something about who you are, what you stand for, what you are trying to achieve?
  • Can you use it, is it safe for the teller/source if you do? Have you got approval?
  • Does it open a useful conversation? 
  • Does it generate action or a change in thinking, rather than just acting as a way of downloading information?
  • Can it be told by different people, through different lenses and still be authentic and useful?

We cover quite a few thoughts and resources on this in our story about how we came to storytelling and this piece on principles behind storytelling.

Once you’re got your story, how do you suggest it’s adapted for different channels?

A story shrivels when it stays in one form. It’s useful to keep very separate the idea of the kernel and the shell.


The essence of the story is in the kernel. The shell is the container in which the story travels and does work, whether that’s a person telling it (their own story or another story), a text story, visualization, animation, video, series of tweets or blogs or whatever.

A written story and a spoken story, for example, often have the same content but shaped differently. And a story can be shorter for the web, longer in a recording or structured discussion, and even longer and told by many voices in other places such as articles or videos.It depends how you are trying to put the story to work:

  • Is it to share a full experience, with much detail or texture (an article, a video, a play even)?
  • Is it the hint of a story – a few words to trigger a different point of view or share a noticing (a tweet, an image and caption, a sound snippet)?
  • Is it a discussion starter in a workshop that is trying to shift thinking on an important topic (a poster, a few talking points, a slide or two, a short paragraph circulated in advance)?

There are many more ways to put a story to work but hopefully these allow us to think about how one story can take many shapes and be adapted for different channels by being shortened, lengthened, told by different people.

There is of course also the informal sharing of an experience via a spoken anecdote (when I was last in xyz doing abc…) that is improvised, unformed and often the most engaging. And certain stories work better in certain formats than in others. We put some thoughts together on this in our take on why use story.

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