The Power of Storytelling

Tuesday, 9 January 2018, 16:37 | Category : Guest Blogger
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For our first guest blog of 2018, we’re delighted to welcome Vikki Kirby, new PR Network senior associate and director of storytelling at Vibrato Consulting. There are a lot of tall tales talked about storytelling itself. Here, Vikki talks about what it means to her.

“If I am a storyteller it’s because I listen.” (John Berger 1926-2017).

What is the nature of story and storytelling and how is that relevant to the organisations in which we work? The visceral energy created by listening to the cadence of cultural storytellers is mesmerising. It leaves behind something in you that’s never forgotten; that cuts through the noise and motivates change. Stories have the power to define us, to create and manage our reputations and even to destroy us, whether ‘we’ are an individual, an organisation or a tribe. The ‘flash’ stories (defined as stories from 140 characters to 800 words) of the minute-by-minute news reel reminds us constantly.

As Corporate Communications professionals we know about that. When we are woken in the early hours by a call to say that something terrible has happened, clear and calm thinking brings the comms. team to the fore in what happens next. I believe in these situations a positive outcome is more likely if goodwill has been created already with stakeholders; from the proactive stories we have already told. But how closely do our corporate stories resonate in the wider world? It’s clear to me that the most successful campaigns have hit a nerve and achieved advocacy because they are relevant.

Reflecting on this at the International Storytelling Festival in Edinburgh last year, I was most struck by stories that connect to their culture of origin in engaging, human ways and hold a fundamental truth across generations. Those who are close to it say that, for Aboriginal and Maori peoples, for the tribes of Namibia and many others, “if our stories are not told, we don’t exist.”

Stories are best told by engaging storytellers. I was privileged to hear Stina Fagertun from Tromsø in Norway recite fairy tales from the Coastal Sami, Kven and Arctic storytelling traditions. Joe Harawira, one of the most travelled Māori storytellers in the world, explained how stories shaped behaviour when a dominant western culture waded in with no interest or sensitivity to age-old, honoured traditions. Amina Blackwood Meeks from Jamaica, Wajuppa Tossa from Thailand and Jess Smith, representing the Scottish Traveller Community, brought to life their own cultural landscapes with pure theatre.

There were also those who, like me, consider the application of storytelling to our understanding of the environments in which we work. Like the work of Dan Serridge on the power of stories to unlock curriculums in schools and a brilliant, emerging oncologist, Autumn Brown, who is using storytelling to help people in remote communities understand cancer.

Alexander Mackenzie has embraced storytelling for the business world, running ‘Fearless Leadership’ programmes for Cranfield School of Management. There is nothing more compelling than a consistently told strategic narrative, designed to shift perceptions, create value and give an organisation a sense of purpose. I am pleased to have worked with many inspirational leaders who are able to co-create and tell those stories and I love to see the power that comes from within when people unite behind them.

Autumn asked me why we never really defined ‘story’. She told me that from her research she learned that experts have never come to a consensus on what makes up a story or narrative, but we know it is intuitively recognisable. Experts do agree that a key aspect of story is that our cognition works along a narrative format, so that we’re always looking for patterns of cause and effect. So, now when I work with organisations to help them understand their purpose and how to convey that, I take more time to think, reflect and establish a more powerful connection with the wider world.

My favourite quote of the year comes from Donald Smith, Director of The Scottish International Storytelling Festival, who said: “In an age of technology, manage within a world of steel and glass, hold onto a world of memory and straw.”

Vikki Kirby, Director of Storytelling, Vibrato Consulting

+44 (0) 7794 278089

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