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Top tips for finding great stories

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Top tips for finding great stories

It’s National Storytelling Week, so we’re sharing our top tips on where and how to find compelling stories inside your organisation.

I recently interviewed someone for a feature about their passion for aviation. It was a fairly standard profile piece on an employee but like all internal communicators, I wanted to find a hook that would make it jump off the page a bit more.

As we chatted, I could tell she loved being around aircraft in her job and in her personal time. But I couldn’t quite understand why. I asked if her love of aviation was instilled by her parents. No, not particularly. A teacher? No. I could have given up at this point and accepted that she simply just loves planes. But I had a gut feeling there was more to this.

So, then I asked: ‘tell me about the first time you flew on a plane, what was that experience like?’ She then began to tell me about how her first time on a plane was when she was flown out of war-torn Afghanistan as a child refugee…I think you’ll agree that I found my story!

Good stories can be hard to find but not impossible. And it’s more important than ever as we continue to focus on the quality of our content over the quantity. So, we’ve shared some tips on how to find stories that will truly bring your content to life.


Use your feet

Stories won’t come to you. Most people don’t even realise there is a story to tell or they’re so busy that it hasn’t even crossed their mind that they should communicate it.

You need to be out and about in the organisation meeting people, hearing what’s going on and recognising when there might be a story to investigate.

Think about hot desking in different parts of the business, joining employee networks, getting your coffee from a kitchen on a different floor. The more connected you are to the business the more relevant, quality and timely the stories you find will be.


Help people to find their own stories

A lot of your time can be taken up wading through content that just isn’t suitable or relevant to publish. Creating content processes and guidelines can be really helpful with this.

For example, you could create a briefing form for people to fill in before approaching you that challenges them to think about what they’re proposing.

Ask questions such as: Why does this matter? Why should people care? How did it make you feel? What didn’t work so well and why? What would you do differently next time?

Often people will realise they’re not ready to communicate or it will help them identify and articulate the story behind the facts that they want to share with the organisation.


Follow your gut

Most people will prepare a list of questions before interviewing someone for a story. However, it’s also important to go into the interview prepared to deviate and be curious if something piques your interest.

As I talked about in the intro to this blog, you usually get a feeling if there’s more to a story than the person is sharing. You’d be surprised how many people think they can only answer the exact question you’re asking. So, ask follow-up questions such as ‘how did that make you feel?’, ‘is there anything else I should know?’.

And that second question should feature on every list of interview questions. I’ve been amazed at what people have told me at that point, just as the interview is ending and it’s become the hook of the story.

Of course, sometimes people will be holding back because they don’t want to share so it’s important to get the balance right between curiosity and intrusion. Make it clear that people can share as much as they want and if the conversation has deviated always check they’re happy for you to include it in the finished article.


Talk about experiences rather than stories

I took part in a Chuck Chats webinar about storytelling a couple of years ago with Chuck Gose, Ali Bunin and Christopher Swan. Ali mentioned that if you ask people to tell you a story, or even tell them you are going to write a story about them and their project, it can feel quite daunting and overwhelming. Where do you begin? Do you need a beginning, middle and end? Who is the main protagonist?

Instead, Ali suggested talking about experiences as it’s more tangible and easier for people to talk about: ‘Tell me about your experience of…’ I thought that was a great piece of advice if you’re struggling to get people to open up.


Always ask ‘why?’

Internal content is usually very good at providing the what and the how. But rarely does it contain the why and that’s often where the story lies. For example, you’re launching a new parental leave policy and your content can simply provide an overview of the policy, how it will affect people etc. Or you can share stories of people found parental leave challenging because the policy wasn’t comprehensive enough. The business listened and made changes in response and that’s why the new policy came about. You not only raise awareness of the policy but show that you’re an organisation that listens and cares.

Sometimes the most extraordinary stories are about ordinary people in ordinary circumstances. So, keep an open mind and be curious – you might be surprised at what you find!

By Helen Deverell for Alive with ideas


Read more about storytelling:

The power of storytelling through video

The seven standards of storytelling at work (infographic)

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