Sticky Storytelling Ways

It’s not just the words

Performance Frontiers
4 min readMar 17


Image Credit: Birmingham Museums on Unsplash

In business we want our messages to “stick.” And whether it’s a single idea, a strategy, an important action, a reflection, or even a mood, we know that storytelling is often the best way to communicate to get higher engagement.

The power of a well-told narrative can be the difference between an indifferent response and complete buy-in to a strategy. It can spark a movement or a transformation. Stories are the building blocks of human communication, they help us learn, and that doesn’t cease to be the case when we’re at work. Whatever our context might be, we will always connect, for example, to tales of overcoming odds, before and after scenarios, and heroic actions.

It makes sense then that becoming “a corporate storyteller” or “a data storyteller” is the subject of intense interest in corporate learning. Leaders, data teams, and marketing departments are keen to strengthen their ability to spin stories that will resonate and influence.

Less commonly considered, however, is how music and art can land an equally powerful message or idea within a corporate context. Reading and listening to words are cerebral activities that may or may not trigger a gut response, but viewing art and listening to music “hack” directly into our emotions. Think of in-store music: it can uplift and energise, soothe and relax, or annoy and irritate, without any “thought” involved.

Music at Work

Image Credit: Mohammad Metri on Unsplash

The power of music not only impacts us in the moment, but over time it alters the structure and function of the brain. Listening to music engages many different areas of the brain, giving us a good mental workout. This particularly applies to music that is autobiographically important to us. Evidence also suggests that hearing songs that sit deep in our memory improves the brain’s plasticity.

As our understanding of the effect of music on the brain grows, so we can begin to see its potential for improving the well-being and engagement of our teams as well as customers.

Try playing music preceding, during or after important events, announcements, or team experiences, and get feedback on its impact. Without a doubt, strong associations and memories will be forged.

Art at Work

Image Credit: Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

Visual art — from fireworks, paintings and sculptures through to even performances or activities such as kite sailing, or windsurfing— also triggers strong emotional responses that keep us engaged.

Akin to the studies in musicology, our research into how viewing art affects our brain, reveals that it can create new neural pathways and ways of thinking. This suggests that we can use art to access a creative state of mind, which is optimal for learning, ideation, and innovation.

Interestingly, researchers believe that our appreciation of visual art is in itself a self-reward because it pulls us from our “oppressive reality.” Being in a state of aesthetic appreciation may be the the reason for increased levels of well-being associated with experiencing visual art.

Art can also, as a stimulus, contribute in many ways to the narrative culture of an organisation. Ask yourself: What artwork do you have on display? And what kind of story does it tell about your business to your clients and your teams?

Not only that, but what kind of discussions are prompted by the visual stimulus you present to your teams in meetings, forums, and get-togethers? What associations and memories are forged by your visual aesthetics? Think about your logo, your mascot, your graphics style, and your decor.

To level up the storytelling power of art and music in your organisation, consider:

  • having an artist or musician in residence to stimulate curiosity
  • renting or acquiring art that more vividly represents your identity
  • inviting a street artist or indie musician to talk to your teams about creativity and creative process
  • sponsoring art and/or music in some capacity and invite your team members to join you to immerse in a storytelling smorgasbord

By thinking outside the ways we normally communicate stories, and letting art and music seep in to the every day of our business world, we will magnify engagement (and enjoyment) at all levels.

For some other ways in which you can make work environments into spaces that cultivate creativity, check out our article Creative Courtyards.

Diversity at Work

Image Credit: Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

Whichever medium we use to tell our stories — word, images, music — another key consideration for sticky storytelling is diversity. We all respond differently to cultural cues around dialogue, body language, creative expression, and tone, so we want to make sure we are practising diverse and inclusive storytelling. Diverse storytelling might include re-framing or providing additional information in a variety of ways. It may require turning our current ways of communicating on their head.

Importantly, we need to be curious and take the time to research whether or not our mode of storytelling is likely to translate for everyone.



Performance Frontiers

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