How Storytelling Dovetails with Stakeholder Engagement

This post is part of a series on Stakeholder Engagement sponsored by Jurat Software.

We’ve all witnessed the power of a good story. It’s actually possible to use a good story to shift the beliefs and behaviors of your stakeholder community in service of a common purpose.

Consider the following anecdote:

John Hardy accuses Al Gore of ruining his life. In his talks, Hardy jokingly claims that the movie “An Inconvenient Truth” made him so concerned about the destruction of the environment that instead of enjoying retirement from a successful jewelry business in Bali, he devoted his life to the development of the Green School. Now a fully-functioning K-12 school that serves close to 200 students, the administration and staff subscribe to the philosophy of “holism,” believing that if children graduate from school as whole people, they will demand and invest in creating a whole and sustainable world. From thatched buildings made of bamboo to whiteboards made of windshields, Green School is as a model for alternative education, local development, community building and green architecture.

Al Gore’s narrative in “An Inconvenient Truth” compelled Hardy to understand, care, and take action. This is one example of how a good story inspires us to look at the world in a different way and make new choices based on what we see.

Here are 5 tips on how to craft and deliver your message in a way that will produce productive dialogue, increase the level of positive relationship in your stakeholder community, and ultimately, create behavior change.

  1. Engage heads, hearts and hands. Begin by precisely defining what you want your stakeholders to think, feel, and do differently. Put yourself into each of their shoes. What do they currently know and believe? What do they stand to lose or gain? What demands and constraints are they facing? What do they fear? What do they hope for? Who are their stakeholders? Consider these questions from an intellectual, emotional, and behavioral standpoint then develop a story that addresses all of them.
  2. Create a narrative, not a deck. A list of bullet points never changed the world. Tell a great story, paint a compelling picture, share concrete examples, use visuals and startling stats to grab and keep your stakeholders attention.  Skeptical? Check out Peter Norvig’s hilarious take on this topic:
  3. Why before What. If your stakeholders don’t buy in to the “why,” they won’t care about the “what.” Start your story with why this matters. Some people are inspired by imagining a new possibility. Others are motivated by a “burning platform.” Make sure your story illustrates both the upside of action and the consequence of non-action.
  4. It ain’t over ‘til it’s over: Stakeholder engagement is a dialogue, not an event. Plan out your touch points as an arch, with a beginning, middle and end.  Each touch point should tell a complete story and serve as a component of the larger narrative. Define your “win” criteria and persist until you get there. It doesn’t count as a success if there is no follow through action after all of the talking and planning.
  5. Relationships are everything: Think about the entire ecosystem of relationships that exist in your stakeholder community, and how you can increase their quality through your engagement strategy. Think of success as the strength of the relationships your stakeholders will walk away with – not their acceptance of your message. This is especially important for stakeholder groups that will have to change, but don’t get an immediate payoff from doing so. In telling your story, build relationships by being authentic, vulnerable, and honest.

Storytelling is a powerful tool to influence thinking, build community, and facilitate change. Integrate it into your stakeholder engagement strategy and perhaps you will inspire the next John Hardy.

[Image Credit: NJLA: New Jersey Library Association, Flickr]

About Atalanta Partners – Renee Cullinan, Meredith Mohr and Julie Walker

Atalanta Partners works with Fortune 500 organizations that are at an inflection point, due to rapid growth, new strategy, or changes to the business environment. Their approach to organizational adoption is based on the belief that you can catalyze action only by truly engaging the hearts, head, and hands of your team. Atlanta helps leaders articulate and communicate the why, what, and how of any change effort to help organizations accelerate through transitions.

Learn more about Atalanta’s story at


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