Transcript: Using Storylines within a Template


Hi there today I want to talk about using storylines with templates because this is one of the complex things about working with corporate communication, very often people have templates that they need you to work with and need you just to put your data into. So I have a way of thinking about this. And in my mind, templates are typically about data collection. They're really about making sure that somebodys covered off on all of the things that need to be thought through when solving a problem. And so that, and then they very often then get used as communication devices which then leaves out the important thing which is the opportunity to add value around the story.

So what I'm seeing here, though, is a bit of a spectrum of these templates. So there's some here that are heavily data driven and that's really about a collection of categories. And it's all about working out what sort of information you can stick under a series of headings. But then at the other end, you do have templates which are a bit more story driven. And there's some things going on in between.

So what I wanted to do today was work through this spectrum with you, and talk through these four different levels that I see in corporate communication, in templates, and give you some ideas to help you navigate your way through them. S

o firstly, looking at what I call the Category A collection. And what we have here, and I've got a PowerPoint example on the screen, is an opportunity to focus on page by page improvements. And what we'll be doing here is typically having a report and I've used, I've chosen to go with PowerPoint here, although the same thing does happen in Word with a lot of tables very often. So we have a title of some sort. And then we have sections with each page covering a different area, each section covering a different area. We get pages that are heavily data oriented, very often automatically generated to we've got systems generating these, these days. And there are titles that are category titles, and I'm going to show you some examples in a moment, that may allow for a message but may not. And we sometimes have a section where we can add a bit of a commentary in. But you've just got section by section with prescribed headings that moves through and sometimes the sections and next steps at the end. There's really no story here. It's just about data collection. And the sort of thing that I see, here's an example of something that's come out of one of my corporate clients, where we've got multiple things on a page, potentially, you might get a separate page for each one of these, we'd get a category heading there, and then you get some data that's pulled in and then you get a couple of bullet points on that bottom right corner there to, you know, discuss the drivers or some actions that might need to be taken from it. Here's another example. similar sort of idea where you've got a bit more room to add some commentary, but not a whole lot. You might have a chance to edit those messages at the top of the titles there, the top of those charts rather, but you might not, you might be limited to just putting some comments in those boxes down below. Now where that happens, there are some things that you can do. So sometimes you're able to add a message title at the very beginning to be able to say, you know, overall performance was well ahead of last year, perhaps that's your message, and then look at each section and say, well, I can't change the title but I can add a couple of words underneath it, becomes a bit like a newspaper headline. And I can call out the message for each page. And then when I do get to a point where I'm going to describe the data in each chart, I can be very conscious of doing that and have a story for that section, if you like.

So one thing that you may also be able to do is in the email that goes with your paper that you're sending out, or perhaps if you're going to talk to the data pack, is run through the data but then share your observations about what's really going on with that story, quite separately to the actual document itself. So there we have a focus for that first level category collection document, where we're improving sections within each page, adding message headlines if we can, and telling the story separately where that's possible, as well.

So if we move into the next level of this, we're moving a little bit towards being a bit more story driven, we've got an opportunity to have an executive summary, and some supporting pages. And if I were to take, again, a PowerPoint schematic, like the one I had before, I've just added two blank pages in there where we might have the executive summary, to give an opportunity to have a preview of the story. And what I'm doing there is just slotting in an introduction and a So What, that we might be able to pull out from the story. So the context might be it's a routine update something like last time I told you, we're in great shape across all dimensions of the business, maybe, and now it's time to update you on this month performance. And so this pack discusses that in more detail. And then you go over the page and you've got your main message there at the top overall performance was well ahead of last year. And then you just pulling out the the headline messages from each of those slides as you go forward. So that's a really simple thing that you can very often do, and sneak it into the document itself. So just tying that one together, we've got an opportunity to have a message headline for each page, as we did for the category collection section. And then, we can also take that one step further by adding an executive summary into the document itself.

Now when we go to the next level, we might have what I call categories stories. And this is something that is really useful when you're thinking about quite large pieces of communication, where you have a series of categories as you have with the others, but you end up with a whole story inside each of those particular sections. And I was looking around for examples of this and actually thought our book The So What Strategy might be a good thing to refer to here. So I've got the top level here of our contents page for this, which you'll see if you skim you can see the messaging for the first part of it. And I've highlighted out the first section here, which is, you know, understanding why mastering storylining is worth the investment, is our first point within the book because of course, we had to have a storyline for the book otherwise we wouldn't be walking our talk. So we did that. And within it, because it's, you know, a couple of hundred pages long, we needed to have a short story to warm people up for each section rather than just diving into the points. It feels a little bit blunt to do that. So what we've got here, first of all is two paragraphs for the context. It's a prose document, it's long so you can see we've taken a bit longer with it than you might in a corporate document. And then we've got the trigger which is really short, that so often happens, the context is longer than the trigger. And here the problem is that ‘All too often leaders and communicators don't know how to break this cycle. This is where we can help. The first step is… and we dive into the main point ‘to understand how story learning can add value in your business, mastering story learning and incorporating into your business will'… and then we go into the detail there. And, of course, mapping out the high level points before we go into talking about each one of those in a bit more depth. So we've got the connection there with the main point that I've got here on the screen in the pro section, connecting exactly with that main point that we have there at the introduction level of the document. So category stories, think about creating a mini storyline inside each category with a context, trigger, question and answer for that section and then give an overall executive summary that previews that message for that category. Before you then dive into the elements of a storyline. So you treat each section a bit like it's a whole storyline.

Now lastly, we have another level here, which is a template which looks at the whole story being incorporated in the template itself. And what we need to do here is sit back and think ‘Well, how do we match our storyline with the headings and sections we've got within the template?', which will sometimes result frankly, in some rework or some repetition. But how can we minimize that and how do we work out how to do it? So what I've got here is four steps to help you recap the whole story into a template and I've got an example to illustrate how that works. So firstly, the thing to do is review the template and correlate that with a storyline. And then secondly, identify the best fit sections for each storyline element. Thirdly, include a fully executive summary near the front, wherever you possibly can. And then lastly, have visible headings for each key point, however the formatting will allow you to do that. So I've got here some headings from a client's leadership team paper that also matches actually their board paper headings. And I'll run through them one by one, and show you how we correlated these with the storylines. So firstly, we have purpose and value at stake. Secondly, action and key judgments sought. Thirdly, background. Fourthly, rationale for recommendation and then next steps. So what we did here is we said, okay, well, purpose and value at stake that actually gets encapsulated pretty well, in the context, trigger and question and the trigger there really speaks to the purpose very tightly most of the time, so let's just make sure when we're crafting it that it really does. Then we go to the next level, we said action and key judgments sought, Well, here we go. Here's our answer, a recommendation supported by a series of top line points, two to five points, of course to try and keep that really tight. Now background, what we've got here is context and trigger in more detail and what I found was that very often, clients would have the freedom to delete that section where there just wasn't the depth of knowledge that needed to be conveyed. And so they would just make an executive decision and do that, where however, there was more that needed to be told, perhaps would have been a long time since that issue had got up to the board or to the leadership team and they wanted to refresh their memories, then they would include that section there. Now, number four, rationale for the recommendation. What we did here was include one top line point per numeral with the message highlighted in bold that then really went back to repeat those high level points that we've got here under action and key judgments sort the top line point one for example, would be mapped out in more depth, and then we go to two and three. So we're just revisiting that executive, that part of the executive summary and going through it in a bit more depth. And then lastly, we've got a next step section. And that might include things like endorse this recommendation recorded in the minutes, or you know, report back in three months time on your progress, something like that. And when you see that mapped out in a bit more depth in the actual document itself, I've got an example here to show you how that played out, what we've got here is the administrative guff highlighted in brackets there, every company has their form of that and it's different everywhere. But broadly the same sort of concept, the name of, the name of the company, the type of thing it is, is it for a recommendation, is it for noting the date, the paper number, confidentiality, the logo, all those kinds of things. And then we work through it step by step. And what we have here is purpose and value at stake. You can see the context and trigger there, the answer and the top line points underneath the outcome support sought and recommendation, background facts, more detail on the context and trigger. We haven't got the depth here, but I've just left them there to illustrate the point, I think in this example we delete that section altogether. And then we've got here the first top line points, you can see the formatting, and how that plays out, we're pulling out that top line point. So it's easy to skim and find what we're looking for, rather than just havingĀ a category heading there, that doesn't really tell our audience anything other than here's the reasoning. Here's the rationale for what we're doing.

So I hope that's helpful for you. It's certainly one of the more challenging parts to really recut your story into a template. And as we go through the Sprint and the Momentum program, it's, you know, feel very free to share those examples with us as skeletons and we can help you talk that through as well. So there you have it, four different categories of templates that I see some ideas to help you work them through, regardless of whether they're heavily data driven, or heavily story driven. And look, I'd encourage you to think about templates as being a bit more flexible than you might expect. Certainly, I find when working with clients, they're very open, very often to improving them and making them easier for the audience to get at the information and see the messaging that comes out of it. So don't be afraid of taking it to the next step and seeing if you can get your leadership teams to improve those templates. They're very often receptive to doing that.

So thank you so much. I hope that's been helpful and I look forward to talking to you again soon in the next video. Bye for now.