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5 ways Microsoft’s chief storyteller makes content more human - PR Daily

Last updated: 08-02-2019

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5 ways Microsoft’s chief storyteller makes content more human - PR Daily

It’s never been harder to stand out from the crowd.

“Our attention is under attack,” says Steve Clayton, Microsoft’s chief storyteller and general manager of the company’s Innovation, Culture and Stories team. “By the time we start our workday, we’ve been bombarded with around 20 gigabytes of data.”

For Clayton—whose work includes everything from communicating benefits to 130,000 employees, to shooting a video, to create a holographic version of himself that speaks Chinese—the way to capture and keep attention is through storytelling.

However, not any story will do.

Here five ways you can breathe life into your storytelling efforts:

To excel at human storytelling, you must focus on the people at the heart of your content.

“Without people, there really is no story,” Clayton says.

Center your story on people, but don’t forget additional elements that breathe life into your content, such as images and videos. Tailor your stories to both your audience and the channel, too.

“I also think about places (where is the story set), pictures (because visual storytelling is so powerful), and platform (or medium be it online, a book, a podcast etc.),” Clayton says.

“We aim to make the internal story and the external story the same,” Clayton says. “In general, you want to ensure you’re telling the same story. Otherwise, you jeopardize authenticity.”

Aside from situations in which you’re restricted by confidentiality, the stories you share with your internal stakeholders should reflect your external storytelling efforts, and vice-versa.

You can unify your internal and external storytelling efforts by sharing your employee’s most powerful experiences. The best practice is displayed on, where readers are welcomed by a simple message:

“This is the story of how memories lead to action,” the site proclaims, followed by stories of Microsoft employees’ efforts to reduce the effects of climate change. Each story is accompanied by a photo or video and a relatable memory.

There’s Phillip Hale, who grew up solving puzzles on and off the football field, which he channeled into a “Zero Waste” project to help others sort their trash. Sandhya Shahdeo shared how her love of fashion conflicted with harmful practices that went into making some of her clothing, inspiring her to volunteer for Fashion for Conservation.

Awa Diaw said she keeps the connection to her birthplace, Senegal, alive while living in New York City by making her own shea butter—a connection that grew when she went back for a visit.

Each story is compelling because you’re able to peek into the employee’s life.

“We tell stories about Microsoft employees with the outside world,” Clayton says. “They’re real stories about real people living their real lives.”

To achieve a similar emotional connection, drop the corporate messages and focus on what makes your employees—and your organization—relatable.

If coming up with story ideas is a challenge, think about what makes you click on headlines. It’s usually a promise to learn about something outside of the day-to-day grind.

Keep your eyes and ears open for unique or unusual details. Clayton suggests an interesting job title, out-of-the-ordinary workplace or a different background are “all signs of a great story.”

“Look out for the unexpected,” Clayton says.

Adopt the behavior and ask others to do the same to find even more stories.

Getting your workforce involved in storytelling efforts means you won’t have to constantly find compelling tales to share.

Lead the way by finding and showcasing a few powerful tales and give your workforce a way to submit story ideas. A proof of concept combined with a streamlined submission process will persuade employees to take part in your storytelling mission, which will also increase internal engagement and external distribution.

“Show them what great storytelling looks like and you’ll be amazed at how quickly great stories find you,” Clayton says. “If you build it, they will come.”

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