Why narrative counts in business communications

World Book Day, which fell earlier this month, can involve all members of a household at some level – even the adults as we recall a favourite childhood read.  But what about the place of narrative in our adult professional lives and, more specifically, in the corporate world where communication styles are often formal and driven by facts and figures?

Since ancient times narrative has been a prominent feature of human communication.  Stories have been used as platforms to remember, to teach, to engage and to enjoy.  The messages within them speak to the beliefs and values of those who create them.

Stories and metaphors help our brains to make sense of the world around us.  Cognitive science tells us that human beings create stories constantly to make sense of our memories – as a way of organising and processing our thoughts, actions and behaviours.  It also tells us that we naturally think in metaphors likening one thing to another.

Of course we don’t actually believe that apples reside in the eye or that nerves will literally make our feet turn cold but these sorts of metaphors, analogies and narratives resonate strongly and feed our senses as well as our imaginations.

Through our use of narrative we form connections with people.  This teaches us a lot about how we can lift the style of corporate messaging to be more than just about sharing facts and figures.  When we’re faced with a factual presentation the so called Broca and Wernicke areas of the brain are engaged which simply process the language we are hearing.  When narrative becomes involved the sensory cortex within our brain comes alive and we start to connect emotionally to the content.

Consequently narrative has a valuable role to play in helping leaders to articulate the purpose behind a company, a particular strategy or a new approach. Done well it will trigger engagement among, incentivise or inspire employee communities. Harnessing narrative is also powerful within the fields of HR, PR, sales and marketing and in any function where really engaging with others is important.

Obviously our media channels have evolved beyond the cave walls and camp fires of early human communication. What’s really exciting today is the range of media that we have at our disposal to bring our narratives to life.  It’s estimated that 65% of the population are visual learners preferring to absorb information with their eyes. Infographics, video, charts, pictures, diagrams and so on are great tools to integrate into our communication and connect with our audience.

So next time you are presenting the quarterly results, meeting a potential new client or getting ready for a media interview perhaps take a moment to think carefully about the narrative and metaphorical language you use to make your key points. Science suggests you will benefit from the outcome.

Emma Mauger