Let's start with the multiple definitions. I've heard executives ask "what's my story" when they really mean "what's my point of view" for the 65-slide PowerPoint they've been asked to present. Ask a proponent of "corporate storytelling" what it is and you could get the archetype and universal themes explanation, which is a tad too touchy-feely for those C-suite denizens. Talk to a reporter about "story" and you'll get yet another perspective on connecting the dots and putting things into context. And let us not forget that reporters often question what PR practitioners are thinking when they pitch their company's story.
To add more confusion, you say story and someone else says narrative. This one is easier to resolve if we think about both terms as essentially recounting or delivering a sequence of events.
So where does all of this take us? We need a more more multi-purpose definition of business storytelling, one that leads to more opportunities for narrative engagement with various publics. I propose borrowing liberally from Clay Shirky who talks about journalism as being "about more than the dissemination of news; it's about the creation of shared awareness." (italics mine). This is an amazingly helpful definition if you're in the business of getting your company's story out "there," anywhere. It helps us expand the concept of what a story is and how to tell it.
If you've seen any of David Meerman Scott's excellent video blog posts with GM executives, you'll quickly see how stories can evolve and play out. GM had the smarts to contact David after he wrote a blog post critical of them back in June. What resulted are several video interviews that demonstrate how sharing experiences and telling stories can humanize a company.
What impressed me about David's GM interviews is the conversational dynamic. No GM corporate pitches, no heavy-handed "messaging" and starched sound-bites. It's an authentic, shared exchange of ideas with some candid and critical self-appraisals. It's the way people talk to one another through social media and that, to me, is the larger story that plays out throughout all of David's GM conversations.
There's a reason I end all of my blog posts with the message that There has never been a better time to tell a good business story. I really do believe that the opportunities have never been greater for telling your story, regardless of the size of your company. It's the how you're going to tell it that's the key.
So how are you going to tell your next story? Can you expand your definition of what a story is? How will you create that shared experience with your audience?