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Corporate Storytelling & The News Flash

News stories are an excellent resource for the corporate storyteller. The mere fact that the story has appeared in print or as part of a recorded news story lends an air of authority to its presentation…regardless of whether or not the premise is true.

This came to mind as I was preparing a presentation this past week. I wanted to make reference to the topic being both timely and in the public eye. I realized that by referencing that it had been “in the news” was sufficient to meet both criteria.

I have seen this approach backfire, too. It is very important to avoid taking a stance on a controversial topic if your purpose is to seek audience understanding. If I chose to use recent news stories as support for how health care reform was an example of the most positive governmental legislation ever enacted, I would immediately lose a significant portion of my audience who do not agree with the steps that have been taken.

In a similar way, it would be important to avoid making reference to health care reform as Obamacare. Once more, tying the program to a controversial individual would cause alienation within a significant portion of my audience. They would hear “Obamacare,” and my further words would be lost behind a haze of internal static.

On the other hand, using news stories to support the argument for all of us to give serious thought about health care works well. There is enough evidence to support that health care reform is well on its way. If we do not make intelligent, considered selections, we could well end up with coverage that does not fit our needs. It would be a relatively small proportion of our audience who does not feel that we should be smart consumers.

When faced with significant opposition, the best the corporate storyteller can hope for is to be perceived as a trusted resource. If my intent is to specifically support the President’s health care reform initiative, it is highly unlikely that I will be changing the minds of my opposition listeners during my presentation. I will be a success if I can have them like or trust me to the extent that they will truly “hear” what I am saying. My goal is not to change minds, but to turn off the internal static.

It is interesting to read some of the printed versions of the historic Lincoln – Douglas debates. Abraham Lincoln frequently ran into verbal opposition from the crowds who were in attendance. His practice was to give a very brief response…no more than a sentence or two…and then ask for the attendees to allow him to continue. He appealed to them to be polite. If the news accounts are correct, this approach worked.

Could the corporate storyteller today appeal to the better nature of a hostile audience? It is certainly an approach to consider. There is a commonality in the corporate world. We want job security and we know that the company needs to survive for us to have job security. Given that, it would be possible to appeal to the audience to listen to an explanation of the thought process behind a news event before judging. Not everyone will be convinced, but “on the fence” listeners could be swayed to further consideration.

The news story carries a built-in authority level that a corporate storyteller can use as “expert support.” Just be careful not to stray into highly emotional territory unless you know your audience very well, or your purpose is to challenge their thinking.

Thank you for reading.