Four Tips on Engaging Employees Through Storytelling


MP900439486In her white paper, Increase the Engagement and Effectiveness of Your Training Through the Power of Story, professional trainer and coach Pamela Slim says:

“No matter the substance of our topic, powerful stories can make training more engaging, relevant and even entertaining.”

According to Ms. Slim, stories can be used to build rapport, to simplify complex topics, and to increase audience engagement. After many years drafting corporate communications, I could not agree more. Stories are the essence of what makes us human.

Here are four tips for using stories to engage employees:

1. Know your audience

The first thing to think about when using stories to engage your audience is to identify who your audience is. The stories you use must be appropriate for the audience. They should not talk down to your audience, nor use language the people you are trying to reach don’t understand. And above all, respect your audience—do not use cliches or stereotypes.

If you know your audience, you can better determine which examples (stories) will speak to them, and present your lessons in words and images they will understand.

2. Engage their emotions and senses

Next, try to engage your audience’s emotions. Use powerful images and appeal to as many senses as possible. Sometimes even raw financial data can be presented as a story. For example, if sales are down because of weather, then describe the snowstorms or floods and their impact on traffic patterns on the area. Then discuss how sales have fallen.

Think about the best advertisements you have seen and their appeal to emotions:

  • the MasterCard stories ending in “for everything else, there’s MasterCard”
  • the old AT&T commercials “reach out and touch someone” that mention touch, when literal touch through the phone lines is impossible
  • any Hallmark Cards ad showing families or lovers and the receipt of a greeting card

Emotions bring us together in the workplace as much as they do in our non-work relationships. Celebrate your successes by talking about the long hours and mishaps that occurred along the way. Compare the end result to reaching the mountain top.

3. Teach clearly and directly

Think of the best sermons or inspirational speeches you have heard. There is a lesson, but the speaker first draws you in by telling you a story. It might be a personal story, or a news event, or a Bible story. The story uses familiar situations we all understand, and helps the audience relate to the speaker as a human being. Then we are receptive to the lesson.

Employee engagement is no different. We all want to be a part of something larger than ourselves. By telling us stories, corporate leaders can build rapport with others in their organization.

Also, stories can demonstrate change for the audience. If you’re reorganizing your workflow, follow a particular product through your system to show how the old methods created problems and how the desired state will avoid these issues.

4. Tell them the story, tell them what it means, and tell them what they need to do

This is my version of the old adage “tell them what you’re going to say, say it, and tell them what you said.” Repetition is important in oral storytelling. So whether it is a training session, a corporate speech, or a stand-up meeting, know what you need to say, tell a story to draw them in or illustrate the point, make the point, and then be specific in telling them what to do.

* * * * *

As I wrote my novel, Playing the Game, I had certain things I wanted to say about leadership, management, and work/life balance. I thought a fictional setting would be a good way to make my points and would be more entertaining for readers than another management treatise. So I illustrated issues around succession planning, employment law, workplace romance, and balancing work and family through a story about a business struggling to be profitable. I wanted to create a novel that was a good read, but also made the case for good people practices in an organization. I think it worked, and readers seem to agree.

When have you used stories to make a point?

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Filed under Human Resources, Leadership, Management, Playing the Game, Writing

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