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In 2009, I had the pleasure of speaking with Janet Jordan of Keynote Communications. Since 1989, Keynote Communications has worked with large and small companies to strengthen their messages and their storytelling. Here Janet shares her insights into brand communications and the power of storytelling.

spiderwebQ. Keynote Communications views the world of brand communications along three dimensions: Clarity, consistencyand connection. Why are these so critical to enhancing communications?

A. Clarity starts with being clear about who you are, and what you

stand for – either your values as a person or as a company. Until you can fully express who you are, you won’t go far.

For brand communications, consistency is about getting maximum impact by reinforcing the brand message. A problem we see is what I call “scattered messaging syndrome” – the message is in pieces and the company has not made a firm commitment to its core messages.

As a result, you hear everyone communicating different messages. You may see people in different business units make up their own brand message. Or they might think they understand the brand message but may be misinformed. Even if the message is a little bit off, you won’t realize the maximum impact.

Connection is about how your message is being received. Effective communication is about connecting – reaching your target and making an impact. Connection is also personal. The most effective communicators are connected to the message and the audience. When people are clear about what the company stands for, it’s easier for them to commit to the message.

All of this is easy to say, but hard to do.

Q. How are brand communications and public speaking similar?

A. Brand communications is about who you are and what you stand for, whether as a company or an individual. It’s conveying where you’ve been and where you aspire to go in a way that matters to the audience.

The message is how you use words, images, and tone to best capture and convey that brand and its distinction. In other words, making clear who you are in the landscape of others, whether competitors or other people.

Marketing is the toolkit for getting the message out. It could involve the Web, marketing materials, campaigns, a seminar, etc.

All three of those components come into play in public speaking.

Q. There seems to be a growing movement away from messaging to storytelling. What do you think is behind this shift?

A. Whereas stories draw you in, messaging sounds like someone’s doing something to you. People love stories. It’s the most dramatic technique you can use to compel attention.

Telling a story is an art that takes time. First people need to mine those stories, which involves getting people to feel comfortable telling them well. Then they can repeat the stories in other venues, such as in presentations and meetings.

To be good, a story must tap into intuition. You can’t just think: “This will sound good.” You must believe the story deeply. Once you can access your stories, you’ll tell them in a true, unhurried way. They just unfold.

Real storytelling means getting people to a place where they’re able to provide rich detail that makes the story come to life. In one engagement, I worked with a large corporation’s head of sales and 80 of his sales leaders. I brought in actors, musicians, and writers – people with communications training and an arts background. To help the sales folks grasp the power of storytelling, we got them to ponder their own personal stories. Then we bridged those stories to connect with the company story.

That being said, it’s important to remember that companies can’t legislate storytelling. If you put rigid guidelines in place, you’ll kill the stories.