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Use Storytelling In Business Communications

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you'll be able to:

  • Identify actions to take to be a more compelling communicator.
  • Host engaging team meetings and project kickoffs.

Stories in Business Communications

The next two units are about learning to take the thrill and excitement of a story and weaving it into your everyday business communications.

For example:

  • Meetings
  • Project kickoffs
  • Status updates
  • Emails & Social Media Communications
  • Presentations

Meetings

Meetings. You have ’em every day. Sometimes you probably feel like you have too many of them. Sometimes you may dread attending them. But what if the meetings you hosted were better and more interesting than others? As part of your training, we’re here to help.

Early on we learned that stories are 22 times more memorable than facts alone. Now it’s time to bring that statistic to life. First we’ll talk about team meetings, status updates, and project kickoffs, then in the next unit we’ll talk about presentations.

Team Meetings

You probably get together weekly with your team to meet about the projects you’re working on. A team meeting isn’t as much of a presentation as it is an opportunity for you to exchange information with your team.

So what’s the secret sauce for being most compelling during your team meetings? That’s easy! Share the stage with your direct reports. Make the meeting’s story an ensemble rather than a one-person show. Remember there’s no “i” in “team.” (Even if there’s one in “meeting.”)

In a moment we’ll share some ideas for making your meetings most compelling, but first click below to hear some creative advice from Scott Jorgensen.

“When I bring groups together and I want to lead a meeting, I want them to be using the creative aspect of who they are. And I give them a moment to be super aware of are they in that mode or not.” —Scott Jorgensen, Customer Strategy & Innovation, Salesforce

Here are some ideas for making your team meetings more compelling:

Try this
For example
Start the meeting with an activity or puzzle.
Just like what Scott suggested, set aside the first few minutes to get the team engaged with an activity or puzzle. Another team at Salesforce even begins their weekly meeting with a cartoon caption contest. It helps the team loosen up and it activates the team’s creative thinking skills.
Give your direct reports the opportunity to lead the meeting.
Having others lead the meeting engages the team in more than one way. The first is that your direct report hosting the meeting needs to reach out to the team in advance to find out about topics to present. In the process, they’ll learn about what other teammates are working on. The second is that no team meeting will be exactly the same.
Encourage directs to share their thoughts, ideas, and ask questions.
Keep the environment casual and encourage direct reports to speak up. When others participate in meetings, they’re more likely to retain the meeting’s message since they feel invested in the outcome.
Share stories when it’s appropriate.
In the previous unit, we learned about the types of stories you might share to inspire your team. It’s appropriate to add anecdotes when they reinforce the meeting’s agenda item. For example, if you’re discussing your team’s upcoming product launch, share stories about what worked well and what did not during the last product launch.

Status Updates

The projects you work on are exciting right? Let’s learn to talk about them in a way that gets across the message in a clear, compelling, and concise way.

Here are some ideas you can use to make sure your message is heard and remembered.

Think Like a Reporter

News reporters know the art of the status update. Not only do they get across a message when they deliver the nightly news, but they do it quickly. In fact, 50% of stories reported on the evening news last 30 seconds or less.

Cartoon of an old TV set with breaking newcast

So how do they do it? And how can you use the same method to turn your status updates into bite-size pieces of news? That’s easy! Try something called “Five Ws.”

Five Ws

Share
For example
Who’s involved
“I’m collaborating with Sami and Jamal from Creative Services.”
What you’re working on
“We are making a 2-minute marketing video that highlights the newest features of Lightning.”
Where you’re working
“We’re recording in the studio across the street.”
Why you’re working on it
“We want to get people excited about Lightning and show off the amazing UI.”
When your project will be complete
“It’s on schedule and will be ready for your review by next Friday.”

To wrap up your status update using the 5 Ws, you may need to add one additional W—Sometimes you’ll need to share “What you need from the team.”

For example, you might say, “I need you to review the video and provide feedback after our screening on Friday.”

When it comes to status updates in meetings, you want to make sure to keep things concise and relevant. Think of it like a short story!

Project Kickoffs

A project kickoff is so much more than just your ordinary meeting. It’s a time to get people jazzed! It’s an exciting opportunity to define the project you need to accomplish and people’s roles within the project.

As the host of a project kickoff, all eyes are on you to get your team and co-workers to buy in.

Start with a story or anecdote:

Create or relay a short story that’s relevant to your project.
For example:

“I’ll never forget my manager at my first job out of college—she didn’t spend all that much time mentoring me or talking to me about my future—one year on the job and I felt like my career was a flop. But then, my next manager cared so much that she led me to where I am today. She helped me envision my future. I think all of our leaders should be like my second manager.”
Explain why there’s a need:

Discuss the pain points that occur (or could occur) as a result of not having your project in place.
For example:

“At Salesforce, we have an amazing culture. We want our managers to be role models who live our Ohana values…”
Share your vision:

State what the project will accomplish.
For example:

“My team would like to create online training for managers and leaders to provide them with information and best practices so they can be effective leaders.”
Define roles:

Ask others if they’re able to participate and set expectations. Clarify roles and what each person will and won’t do.
For example:

“Bailey on my team will be the project lead. For those of you I’ve asked to join as subject matter experts and stakeholders, I’d like to gauge your level of interest and availability to participate…”
Share your timeline:

Make sure that everyone is available to participate and can commit to the project’s schedule.
For example:

“Here is the proposed timeline for the project. What questions do you have?”
Clarify next steps:

When you wrap up, let the group know about when you’ll all meet again.
For example:

“I think it would be a great idea for us to meet on a bi-weekly basis in the first phase of development…”

Email and Social Media Communications

Now that you’re a pro at hosting daily meetings and kickoffs, let’s look at how you communicate via email and business social media—like Chatter.

Remember, the things you put in writing tell a story about you professionally. You want to be sure you’re telling the best version of the story.

Person thinking at a desk

Email

Emails convey facts and communicate action items. Email is excellent for setting up times to meet and for following up after a meeting.

Like any good story, an email needs to “start with why.” Ask yourself, why am I sending this email , and what do I need from the recipient?

The subject line of the email is the most important

In the subject, make it clear why you are emailing. If your email is asking for something, make the ask in the first paragraph or first line of the second paragraph. Then your reader knows why you are emailing them.

Most people's instincts are to give a lot of context or even tell a story at the start of the email and make the ask at the end. Our advice is—don’t do it! Too much text in an email gets lower responses than when the subject and the start of the email make a clear ask.

Here are our quick tips for how to send an email:

Do this
Not this
Keep it short
Send your colleague a novel
Stick to appropriate threads
Respond with a change of topic
Bold key dates and action items
Let your key dates and action items get lost in the text
Use bullet points
Send one long paragraph
Be professional
Use texting abbreviations like, “ur” and “u”
Think before you press Send
Send an email in an emotional state
Follow up
Shy away from sending two emails in a row

Social media in business

You probably don’t think about it, but whenever you click “post” or update your status on social media, you’re telling a story. You’re communicating the story of your personal agenda and what you’re trying to achieve.

It’s like how companies have a brand. Your social media presence is an extension of your brand. We’re not going to dive too deep on this topic right now, but we’ll share a couple thoughts on how to post.

When you use social media in business—or elsewhere—the key is to know that even if you’re engaging one-to-one, others can eavesdrop on the discussion. That means others can see if you comment under a post, and they can read what you’re writing about even it’s not directed toward them.

At Salesforce, we use Chatter as our internal social media platform. When you use Chatter to post updates about your team, consider many of our tips and tricks about email. They also apply for a Chatter post.

For example, bullets work really well for getting the reader’s attention.

To post effectively on Chatter:

  • Identify your key message—for example an event:

Screenshot of Chatter communication

  • Ask questions that will engage your followers
  • @mention your team and other relevant parties
  • Give credit to individuals on your team for their work

Screenshot of Change Badge

Another important thing to remember when it comes to social media and Chatter is to consider your business agenda before you post. Ask yourself if what you’re posting contributes to your brand or if it detracts from what you’d like to accomplish professionally.

Lets sum it up

Let’s Sum It Up

By taking the things you’ve learned about storytelling, you have the power to turn your business communications into something more than just facts.

In the next unit, we’ll learn all about how to use storytelling in the presentations you give.

Resources