Turn your B-BBEE journey into a story to tell.

Storytelling. It’s taken a firm grip on the business world, and there’s a reason why. Put simply. It’s one of the most effective ways to sell.

“Storytelling started as a survival tool, and it puts information into a form that stimulates our brains more intensely and shortcuts to our emotions,” writes Brian Roff from Propoint Graphics for Forbes magazine.“In the same way, that song lyrics are easier to remember than, say, an annual report, storytelling essentially adds ‘music’ to underscore information. With that ‘music’ comes empathy, perspective and engagement.’”

Now, for some people in your organisation, making their message into a story is particularly challenging. For example, your CFO might struggle to ‘storify’ the company’s annual financials or income statement. But as a B-BBEE practitioner, you’re dealing with stories every day.

That’s because, even though you’re measuring and tracking numbers and spend, you’re actually dealing with people and lives and change. You’re helping people recognise their potential and realise their dreams. Is there a better way to tell a story than that?

It’s worth spending some time thinking about how you can tell your story. Here are some pointers from the experts.

1. Start With An Audience And A Message.

Sounds straightforward, doesn’t it? But when done right, this requires a good deal of thought and energy. Are you talking to men or women? Other businesses or end-users? Current or future clients? What is their spending power? Their consumer habits? Their decision-making role? The better you define your audience, the more powerfully you can craft the message, which you should ultimately distill into a single thought or sentence.

2. Ask Why It Matters.

Your B-BBEE certificate shows that your company gets full points for Skills Development. So what? Whose life has changed in what way because of what you’re doing? Did Thuli get the job she’d always wanted after completing an internship with your company? Was Senzo able to send his daughter to university because he started his own business?

3. Tell People About Your Struggles

The most basic of all stories shows how a protagonist faced an inevitable challenge and overcame it. In your B-BBEE process, you’ve done this. What has been difficult for you about successfully implementing your B-BBEE programme? Here, packaging counts for something. So if you say “we really battled to find a system that enabled us to capture all of our Preferential Procurement spend effectively” that might not touch the hearts of people as much as telling them how you spent a week in Limpopo at the FET colleges meeting candidates who had struggled to pay their way through post-matric tuition and were trying to create a brighter future for their families.

4. Whittle Out Unnecessary Details.

This is one of the story-telling skills that comes with practice. One (now professional) writer tells about how during college he and a friend hung out at bars trying to pick up girls. His friend was always surrounded by ladies laughing at his stories and hanging onto his every word. The writer had much less success. One day his friend told him that his stories had too much detail. The advice he was given? “Cut out every second sentence in your story.” That changed everything, he said.

‘Trimming the fat’ from a story may be one of the more demanding disciplines you adopt. Because all of the facts probably seem important to you. You might even be a little emotionally attached to some of them. But which of these sentences is more readable?

–    “On her first day at the company, the HR manager sat down with Phemi and discussed her goals”.

–    “On her first day at the company, John Stewart, an experienced HR manager who had been running the internship programme for 17 years and had mentored many other people like Phemi, sat down with her and discussed her goals”.

Chances are you picked the first one. Even though those facts about John are nice, they don’t take the story forward in any way. Kiss them goodbye.

5. Give Your Audience A Satisfying Conclusion.

People love to hear that the guy got the girl (or guy) in the end. It brightens their day to know that the street sweeper worked hard and became a millionaire. So give it to them. By the end of the story, you should have answered as many questions as you can. Don’t leave people wondering: ‘What happened to….?’

And to get you motivated, here’s a final thought: the time you spend generating your story will be worth it. “Stories are the original viral tool,” says Jonah Sachs, author of Winning the Story Wars. “Once you tell a very compelling story, the first thing someone does is think, ‘Who can I can tell this story to?’ So, for the extra three minutes, you spend encoding a leadership communication in a story, you’re going to see returns that last for months and maybe even years.” Get talking!

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