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Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Storyteller's Take On Corporate Storytelling

Media mogul Peter Guber ought to know about storytelling and succeeding in business. It's the world he has been operating in most of his professional life.
Guber -- chairman of Mandalay Entertainment Group -- is the former studio chief of Columbia Pictures, former CEO of Sony Pictures, founder of Polygram Pictures, and founder of Casablanca Records and Filmworks.

As a University of Pennsylvania alum and a communications consultant, I recently came across an interview Guber granted to Knowledge @ Wharton, an online publication of the Wharton School of Business & Finance. The topic was "Sharing Stories, and not Just Information, to Communicate Effectively." (Full interview at http://tinyurl.com/lvahxa).

I was struck by how his comments echoed the best advice CommCore provides our corporate, government and agenda-driven clients: that communicating business and organizational news effectively requires turning it into a story. In the interview, Guber argues that stories are more memorable and engaging than slide presentations, memos or sales pitches.
The notion is not a new one. But what made this interview "sticky" was Guber's admission that it often takes a lifelong career for business leaders like himself to see clearly the obvious connection between their field of business and storytelling as a best practice of leadership:

"The conceit that I've come to believe in over the past 40 years of my career -- in virtually every part of storytelling, from writing books and speaking and teaching and being a newscaster and being a talk show host for 533 interviews and making thousands of movies and television shows -- is that we are all wired as storytellers. The amazing thing is we're all born as storytellers and story-listeners and somehow we don't venerate its value. It's only later in our life that we ... wonder why this [leadership strategy] is working or why it's not working."

Guber doesn't take credit for it. Storytelling is as old as social organization, he notes. What it's about is becoming aware that storytelling is the essence of our social world:

"It's really recognizing that [storytelling is] the way our tribe works, the way our society works....Nobody is wired to remember information. They're really not. What's actionable is when information is encoded or embedded into a narrative and it's emotionally rendered. They hold the information in a different way and it becomes memorable, more actionable, and definitely virally marketable....Every great leader is a storyteller. And I don't know how you can really be a good leader ... without having that as part of your portfolio."

As professional communicators, we all know the story is paramount to the success of any message. But are we consistent in finding the compelling story in a brand, a mission, a product or a service that will stick in our target audiences minds? Do we practice what we preach? How do we know if a story resonates with an audience?

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