Storytelling is innate in all of us. We’ve been doing it for thousands of years. Yet somehow in business, we forget how to craft and communicate great stories. In this case, we don’t mean “story” like a novel or a fiction piece in The New Yorker. You can, in fact, deliver a compelling story in a presentation, an email, or an investor memo.
What if you could learn how to build a narrative that moved your audience to action? Better yet, what if all employees within your organization could craft their own stories, saving your colleagues and managers hours of time reworking decks and editing memos before submitting them to the executive team? That could be a game changer.
Let’s explore how to choose the right communications training partner for your organization, helping you build business stories that showcase credibility and confidence, saving employees hours every week, and driving audiences to make a decision.
Choose a Communications Training Partner That Aligns with These Seven Principles
When looking to implement communications training, there are several key insights we’ve learned over the past 20-plus years of delivering training to the world’s top brands that will make your program stand out. As you’re evaluating potential vendors, consider these seven tips as a guide to getting to the final — and best — decision.
Choose communications training that impacts every part of your business and drives real behavior change
Great communication skills aren’t just for marketing teams or liberal arts grads. In fact, business storytelling is one of the most important skills for today’s teams in all functions. Consider highly technical skills, like finance: It’s well known that crafting a compelling narrative through valuation models, as noted by McKinsey consultants, can significantly increase business value. Valuation guru Aswath Damodaran, professor of finance at NYU’s business school, even wrote a book called Narrative and Numbers: The Value of Stories in Business. The same goes for many other technical skills: computer science, data analysis, and the law.
To be clear, storytelling isn’t just for a TED Talk. It encompasses the everyday, practical communication skills that speed up productivity, efficiency, and creativity.
For instance, one professor at Harvard Business School argued that information has become cheap (virtually free) and available everywhere, which allows quicker and more decentralized decision-making for many within the modern enterprise. However, because information is so cheap, today’s “leaders need to be able to understand and evaluate this information.” That is, leaders need to learn how to understand what to know and do with the information they’re presented. How do they do that? Effective communication.
She continues by saying that this information dynamic can help transform the entire organizational structure of the company, where leadership creates value by “understanding data and making decisions based on both objective information and a multitude of perspectives rather than by simply imposing your individual views on the world.” Yet not all managers are able to make that shift, she warns.
The transmission mechanism, if you will, between the data and information to the decision-makers is effective communication. As teams rely more on each other to make judgments from data, they’ll need better storytelling skills to increase the clarity of the information.
The important point here is that your chosen vendor needs to understand how to capitalize on these dynamic interactions to drive the behavior change you’re looking for. This helps to build a culture of storytelling within your organization.
The benefit of building this skill cross-functionally leads to what you might call a trickle-down effect. For example, if the people pulling the initial data have storytelling skills, it’s easier on the marketers to whom they relay this data since meaning has already been made. This also applies to the sales folks as they pass the “beautified” data to prospects. If one link in this chain doesn’t understand storytelling, the whole thing could unravel. Everyone needs a common approach and language to make information transmission smooth and efficient.
Choose a partner that knows how to build executive sponsorship and consensus
No major purchase decisions are made in an organization without executive sponsorship. That means vendors need to help sell the case through to the senior leadership team to smooth the implementation process.
Can your vendor build a business case? Do they have case studies for how successful the training was for other organizations like yours? Can they provide sales and marketing materials to “land and expand” with your organization’s lines of business and move toward the senior executives? Will they walk you through before-and-after demonstrations of employees’ presentations or internal memos to evaluate practical outcomes? Can they deliver professional, best-practice calls and sales meetings without a hitch?
Perhaps most importantly, do they practice what they preach? This process is a storytelling exercise in itself. If a vendor knows how to rally the buying committee and effectively communicate their value proposition, you can be sure they know how to train your teams to do it too.
Choose a vendor with a smooth, configurable implementation
There are a lot of things to consider when beginning any initiative within a modern organization, especially with remote and hybrid work growing in popularity. That’s why you need a partner that will go to great lengths in their due diligence to understand what your organization needs. To get there, you’ll need a partner for whom this isn’t their first implementation rodeo.
One way to do this is to “contextualize” the training and workshops to fit in your organization’s processes and culture. For example, the vendor could infuse examples relevant to your industry in order to see the training brought to life in your business environment. Another idea is to conduct pre-workshop interviews to better understand the issues facing your organization. This helps to “get inside the world” of each group going through the training. For example, the vendor could conduct interviews if there’s a new training group to better understand their issues and language. That leads to each workshop having a little different focus, depending on the audience, whether to marketing folks or technical folks.
Further, if your employees bring the projects they’re currently working on to the workshops to practice their communication skills, you can be sure that the training, as well as the output from the training, is perfectly aligned with the daily requirements of the organization. This is an important point that many vendors overlook, which we’ll explore more in the next section.
In short, look for a partner that can implement an acutely relevant solution and is configured for your business’s most pressing needs.
Choose a partner whose training is immediately relevant for the practical, everyday communication tasks
Following on from the previous points, business storytelling applies to nearly every job in the modern enterprise. That’s why an experienced partner allows time for employees to work on their actual projects during the workshops.
The right communications training model will work with the tasks that employees need to do immediately. For example, the best workshops allow employees to bring in their communication challenges facing them that week, where the facilitators guide employees to use business storytelling principles in their actual projects. No pre-work required.
This way employees get immediate application and a seamless flow from the training experience back into their days. This process reinforces the concepts in almost the very next thing they do. Some research on retaining information shows that using what you’ve learned via practical experience enhances the retention process. That is, by employees bringing their projects into the workshops, this increases the chance that they’ll remember what they’ve learned. Not only that, but attendees will see this training as something other than “a day wasted in a workshop.”
Urge your prospective vendor to show how relevant and practical the learning experience will be in your teams’ everyday work.
Choose a vendor that helps training stick over time
Following up on that point, it’s crucial that the content doesn’t fall out of your employees’ brains the next day. We’ve written elsewhere about the “forgetting curve” and how quickly people forget what they’ve learned.
However, applying the learning material to employees’ everyday work helps them remember what they’ve learned. A Training Industry article explores ideas for “retention boosters” after workshops have concluded to keep employees engaged with the material.
In addition to those, we’ve seen a few other approaches work well for many organizations. For one, manager coaching guidelines can help empower leaders as well as direct reports on effective communication techniques. That way, as teams continue to build business communications throughout the workweek, they can hold each other accountable for what they’ve learned. The same goes for peer-to-peer coaching. The best workshops provide guides and notes that employees can take with them to aid their coaching long after the training has ended.
Additionally, we’ve seen that “refresher” webinars help keep concepts top of mind and fresh even six or 12 months or more after training. Modern vendors also offer on-demand courses so employees can reference and explore the skills more deeply.
All this to say, it’s important to ask how the prospective partner can ensure your learning budget isn’t wasted as time passes.
Choose a vendor whose communications focused workshops complement and build on each other
Great learning programs are holistic. They bring forward a connected ecosystem of knowledge and skills that have myriad applications. As you’re going through the evaluation process, consider the following criterion.
Evaluate other departments’ needs and how one training provider can get the most people up to speed across today’s matrixed organizations. Workshops, for example, can build on and complement each other across lines of business. That way you’re able to see each department’s needs, like effective storytelling skills, and consider how the vendor’s other offerings also support the secondary needs, like data visualization or visual messaging.
Not only will this increase learning retention, but also, more departments can get involved in the learning process, helping the material spread throughout employee networks. This has the added bonus of making your learning budget go further, faster, with more learning per dollar.
Choose a provider that specializes in the type of communication training your organization needs
You wouldn’t seek out an accountant for legal advice. You wouldn’t even seek out many attorneys for, say, an M&A transaction. You need a specialist for a specialized problem. In a similar way, many consultants have a broad skill set that addresses a wide range of problems, and many consultancies thrive on tackling complex issues.
However, for a need as important and particular as strategic communications in the modern enterprise, it’s imperative that the vendor you choose is a specialist in communication. That’s what their entire business should focus on, and they have the resources and expertise to provide what you need.
Consider asking your potential partner if this is one line of business they offer or if it’s their one business offering. The distinction between the two can make or break a successful training operation.
Choose the Model That’s Best For You
Communications training models come in all shapes and sizes, so choosing the ideal model that’s right for you may take some effort. We hope this guide will help you better analyze vendors and methodologies for selecting a model fit for your business.