Episode 321 – Storytelling for Business with Rob Wozny

Rob WoznyStorytelling is one of the most basic human impulses. And in the digital age, it’s also one of the most complex and confusing: how do you choose between the multitude of channels and tools to help YOUR story connect with the people who matter the most to your business? 

Rob Wozny has been in the storytelling game all his life, as a journalist, content strategist and professional business communicator, and he’s put that lifetime of expertise into his new book, Storytelling for Business: The art and science of creating connection in the digital age. 

In this conversation we talk about both the art and the science of business storytelling, and also the misery and magic of writing a book about it… 

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Rob’s site: https://www.robwozny.com/

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Alison Jones: For more than 25 years, storytelling has been at the core of everything that Rob Wozny has accomplished as an intrepid senior journalist, creative content strategist, and a proven business communicator. Leveraging his passion and experience for storytelling, Rob works with business owners and leaders to understand their goals and align them with business storytelling ideas, personalized to attract and engage the people that matter most to them.

And his new book is called Storytelling for Business: The art and science of creating connection in the digital age.

Welcome to the show, Rob. It’s great to have you here.

Rob Wozny: Alison, thank you so much for having me. It’s a real honour to be here.

Alison Jones: It’s great to see you. And it’s also lovely, if anybody’s watching on video, I can see the book. It’s behind me on the shelf and it’s also just behind you there, so a lovely bit of product placement. It is a handsome looking book, isn’t it?

Rob Wozny: Yes. Well, thank you to you and your team for doing such a great job for delivering it.

I got a lot of good feedback on it so far.

Alison Jones: Great, I’m very pleased to hear it.

And it is, it’s a fascinating topic. It’s sort of an evergreen topic in business, isn’t it? Storytelling has become one of those real buzz words. So tell us what do you mean by it? And why does it matter so much?

Rob Wozny: Well, it’s, you know, as you said in the introduction, storytelling one way or the other has been a part of what I’ve done, in various forms of my career. But certainly in the business standpoint with the advent of technology, especially with social media and then the technology to tell and distribute your story, it just is such a powerful tool for any business of any size to get in the storytelling game, as it were, to connect with the people that matter the most to their success. And whether it’s video or podcasting or written word, you know, choosing your lane, as it were, to tell that story can just create such a connection between, you know, you directly and you directly with the people that matter the most to the success of your business.

Alison Jones: And it’s very much not about telling your sales copy to the people. It is very much about making that emotional connection.

Rob Wozny: Yes, a hundred percent because I think you’re right that if it’s all about selling people are going to tune out very quickly. I think that’s the, you know, when we first saw that storytelling came on social media, you saw a lot of selling and how that quickly faded because I think people got tired of that and really wanted to have that connection and story facilitates that connection.

We’ve seen it. I mean, we could probably sit here and talk for a long while about many brands and many businesses that tell remarkable stories of their business because it works, it creates that connection.

Alison Jones: And I’m no novelist. I know you’re not a novelist, but I mean, storytelling is one of the most ancient human arts, it’s how we’ve kept ourselves safe, you know, the stories of bogeyman and so on. But how does business storytelling differ from pure storytelling, you know, fiction? I mean, obviously there’s this sort of element of truth in there, but also just in terms of purpose, in terms of structure, how does it differ?

Rob Wozny: Well, I think, you know, it’s understanding that there is a self interest, it’s like let’s not shy away from that. I think there’s a self-interest in telling the story of a business because you are ultimately wanting to sell a product or a service, or you’re trying to influence a stakeholder group to do something.

But in the same way, but being of service and doing that creates that ability to make it seem a little bit more genuine and authentic because it is, that that business or organization does have a service to provide. It does solve problems for its customers and stakeholders. So if you presented in the way of a story, that makes that connection and it makes the ability to understand what you do as a business or an organization to the people you’re trying to help and story does that.

Alison Jones: It really does, doesn’t it? I think it’s that difference between an abstract concept and an individual instance as well. You make a really good point in the book about when you talk about what happened to this child, suddenly people get it and you can mobilize people in a way that you couldn’t, if you were just talking about the issue.

Rob Wozny: Yes absolutely.

Alison Jones: Yes.

Rob Wozny: Yes, you know, whether it’s business or organizations and even though the book title is Storytelling for Business, throughout the book I also write organization because it’s not-for-profits, it’s right across the board. Utilizing the power of storytelling to again influence people to take a certain specific cause or action or support something that you as an organization are trying to make happen.

You know there are many nonprofits and charities who utilize story telling in such impactful ways, because again, it allows them to connect with the people that they’re trying to provide a service to or do greater good. And the best way, or one of most impactful ways to do that is through by telling their stories and how they’re making a difference through the people, the real people, as we talk about in the book that are, you know, who are the benefits of these remarkable stories and the organization.

Alison Jones: And I think that is a really important point, that these are true stories, and these are in the service of an ethical pursuit of, because that matters doesn’t it? It’s very easy to manipulate people emotionally and good storytelling isn’t about manipulation, as you say, it’s just about connection, but that emotional content as well.

Rob Wozny: Yes, you know, I truly believe that you can’t influence, you can’t fool the public. You can certainly influence some, but you can’t fool them. And I think we’ve seen, and we could talk about many examples of organizations and businesses that have tried to do that and, you know, they suffer the consequences. But certainly I think influence through storytelling and saying what we as an organization or we as a business, what we can do through the power of our narrative and our story, and that’s the connection that you certainly want to make.

Alison Jones: And you talk quite a lot about building your media platform, which I found fascinating because there’s lots of books about storytelling and how you sort of tell stories and narrative arcs and that kind of stuff. And you do a lot of stuff about how to tell stories, but you also say, this is how you deliver your story and… just draw out for us the difference between building your own media platform and the media relations piece.

Rob Wozny: They’re kind of one and the same, and there are two sort of streams, if you will. But the difference is, you know Alison, much like we’re talking today, we’re having this dialogue via video chat and you in an essence are your own broadcaster and we’re having this connection. You’re going to put it on your social media.

So you’ve created your own media network, but what the balance is because there’s a, you know, the early part of my career I worked in journalism and I worked with a lot of businesses and organizations to tell their stories through the media. And that’s still is a very powerful channel of communication to tell your story.

And a lot of businesses, you know, make that ongoing assessment: well, should I just use my own channels of communication to speak directly to my stakeholders and forgo working with the media? But I think there’s a real balance in both. You know, the mainstream media as well to have utilized their channels of communication to amplify through their traditional channels.

So when you put it all together, you have a real opportunity to tell your story in a really impactful way with incredible distribution that is social media and beyond.

Alison Jones: And actually you make a very good point that the more clearly you tell your story through your own channels, the easier you make it for the traditional media to pick up on that and simply use it as it stands, because you’re telling a good story and that’s what they need.

Rob Wozny: Right and you know, I think the challenge is just understanding the nuances within the channels. Like whether it’s a blog post or whether it’s a video post to whether it’s a meme or a graphic, there’s just so many opportunities and therein lies the paradox, right? There’s just so much to choose from.

And we talk a little bit about it in the book that, pick your lane, choose what works for you. It’s very easy to get in and go, okay, I want to have all these channels, but then you kind of dilute your message. And it’s also important to recognize with building your own media network, that how content behaves on one particular social media channel, will perform differently on another one.

And also the algorithms that distribute your content and your story perform differently. So get in the game, but you know, just look what works, you know, really investigate what works well with you and understand before you get in that. Like what kind of story do you want to tell, what really works for you? Is it video, perhaps not, maybe it’s a white paper. Maybe it is just short, little audio clips, maybe it’s podcasts, again which are very powerful. Maybe it’s all the above if that works for you, but again, just really understanding of, you know, picking those lanes first and just really understanding what works for you, is a great way to start.

Alison Jones: And what you can sustain importantly as well, because this is all time consuming.

Just give us some principles, if somebody is going well, you know, it’s all very well saying, pick your lane and build your platform. But how do I know?

What I love about this actually is it’s much more strategic. It’s not just saying, you know, post on the socials. It’s: think about it as building a platform, think about it as really choosing your channels and picking a lane. So what kind of principles should people keep in mind when they think about that?

Rob Wozny: I think it’s first understanding your clients and your customers and how you want to serve them with your story and understanding what kind of content and stories do they want to consume from your organization or business. And once you have an understanding of that, how do they want to consume them?

I’m a big believer, and a big fan, Alison and I talk about this in the book, of just asking. Just asking your customers and it doesn’t, sometimes it doesn’t have to be exhaustive, it doesn’t have to be like this huge survey. It’s sometimes, it’s just even anecdotally, if you have face to face interaction or customer interactions just say, what kind of content are you consuming? What do you like to read or how do you like to take in stories? And you’ll find very quickly, you’ll see this connection or pattern, you go, okay my clients are telling me this, this could be a good way for me to go and to tell my story.

I know the products and services I want to build stories around, and now based on some feedback, this is how I’m going to deliver them. And then once you sort of have that understanding, then you can look at the channels of communication, whether it’s social media, again through your website, you know, picking what works well for you.

And then in addition to that think, well, you know, maybe I want to take a another step and maybe I want to bring in some publicity aspect with the mainstream media. And you put that all together and you kind of create the right mix for you.

Alison Jones: And as you say, it’s about iteration, isn’t it, seeing what works, testing things out, doubling down on what works, try something else when it doesn’t. Yes.

You talk as well about when stories go sideways, which is a really important piece, particularly as you say, for when mainstream media picks up on your stuff and you lose control of your story in a sense, I mean, that can be quite scary for a business, can’t it?

Rob Wozny: Yes, it can. And I think it’s why that chapter is in the book, and it’s certainly referenced again at the closing chapter of the book, that if you’re not prepared for that risk, not to say that is going to happen every single time, but there’s always a risk of telling your story of how something’s perceived, or maybe there’s some perception that goes the wrong way. And just, we talk about it a little bit in the book, about how to sort of get back on track when that story gets sideways. But it’s really important to recognize just that there is risk when you’re telling stories, especially in the social media realm and, you know, mainstream media certainly follows the social media aspect of what’s going on. They derive stories from it, they follow very closely from it.

So the two influence each other, so if you’re going to enter this space it’s just something to be aware of and, you know we talk about it in the book that should it happen, here are some strategies to help you get back on track if your story goes sideways.

Alison Jones: And I thought it was a very good point you made about the more you have your own story and your own kind of platform out there, in a sense the more control you have over that and the more counterbalance you have to other, perhaps less friendly interpretations of your story.

So there is a real balance of power there, isn’t there?

Rob Wozny: Yes, there certainly is that control of the narrative. I think the biggest thing is that you have the direct line of communication with your stakeholder group, rather than let’s say, having an intermediary kind of decipher what your message is. But at the same time, you still are out there if you will, on the social media world. And it’s open to interpretation and sometimes open to controversy, or very, how should we say, intelligent and very in-depth discourse that sometimes can happen. And again, just to be aware of that, that is always the risk and challenge when you’re telling your story in a social media space.

Alison Jones: Yes, and another reason to keep it ethical and true because it’s such a transparent world, isn’t it? Which is not a bad thing.

So I want to talk as well about the writing, Rob, because that’s what we like to do on this podcast as well. We like to get under the hood of what it was like to write the book.

So if you summed up in three words, what was the experience like?

Rob Wozny: Sorry, the question is to sum it up in three words?

Alison Jones: It’s a bit mean, but yes, you’re allowed to speak more if you want, after that.

Rob Wozny: Well, I think that the first word is probably humbling. I think you’ve probably heard that a lot from authors that go through that process. It’s such, you have this vision of what the book is going to look like at the end, it’s in your mind’s eye, then when you’re going through it, it is a tremendously humbling process because it requires a lot of discipline and you know, moments of reflection and I’m on the right path and to keep going. And thankfully, working with a good team certainly helps you stay on track. So I think that’s certainly one of them.

It’s certainly rewarding, to be on the other end of it, to see the final product and just to be able to give back.

Doing the research of putting a book together, you speak to a lot of authors and for many of them it’s just a matter of, this is my giving back to the universe, if you will, this is me giving back to the profession that has done so much for me. And that was for me to a large degree. So it’s just been rewarding that I hope, my sincere hope, is that those who read the book you know, they gain something from it. They gain some knowledge from it.

 And I think that the last word I can sort of describe from it is, you know, it was just a very I said to someone about spiritual process, if you will. Because I remember there was certain times where I was writing, I’m thinking, how am I going to write this book? But, you put a plan in place, you put a process in place, but at the same time, you still have to draw energy to put this in. It’s your work, I mean, the book doesn’t write itself and Alison, there were times where, you know, I’d write the book and my process was, I said, I would never stop writing. Like every week I said, I will always write, whether it was 250 words or more. But I would just promise myself that I would always write every week. Some weeks you would have a very, very small output. But I remember there was one week where I wrote an entire chapter. I sat down and I wrote, you know, 22 odd pages. And I’m like, where did that come from? You know, where did, I mean, I know I’ve put a process in place, but it’s like, I took this mental energy and I plugged into the universe and this spiritual energy just came and it just now I remember moments like that.

So I think those are the three that kind of sum up the process for me.

Alison Jones: I’m so fascinated about that last one, you describe it beautifully, it makes me want to sort of, you know, immediately just go write again. it’s actually, it’s the process of being there, isn’t it? You don’t get that inspiration if you aren’t in the seat writing. So there’s a sort of mix, you’ve got to meet the universe halfway.

And I’m also interested as well, because obviously you’ve been a journalist, so writing isn’t a big deal for you. You’re a skillful wordsmith, you’re a storyteller. How is a book different to the usual way that you’ve worked or that the sort of journalism pace of working?

Rob Wozny: Well, this is by far the biggest writing project I’ve ever partaken, that’s for sure. And so I think that in itself, just the mechanics of it are certainly bigger. In my work in television journalism, most of the stories were sort of day in, day out, I had the opportunity to do some in-depth features, which were very rewarding, but you know, this book is certainly a, it’s a big process, right? It takes many months to write a manuscript and then you go through the first time, things like the content edits. And that is, that was a huge process. And, you know, I’ll do my best to describe and Alison feel free to jump in, but a content edit is when the editor, you have an editor come in and kind of say, well, I think this should go here and you can kind of rearrange the process and you know, that is to me, it was like rewriting the book 25% over again.

All good. It was great. It was a fantastic process, but it was so much work. In the end I’m really happy with the way it turned out, but it’s just, I’ve never experienced that volume, and again, that level of leaning into having to be so consistent and just the workload that went into it.

Again, grateful with the output.

But there were moments that were just like, you got to really stick with it and push through.

Alison Jones: I’m always quite careful. This is, so what you’re calling the content edit, we call the development editors review. And I’m always really quite careful when I’m phrasing an email when it’s going back, because I know that this is really, really useful stuff, and it’s really going to make the book better. And it’s an awful lot of work in many cases. And it’s quite sort of challenging to present that in a way that says, isn’t this great: we found some work for you to do. It’s going to make it such a great book.

But you were so on it and so responsive to that feedback. So that’s, that’s always rewarding when an author is like that.

Was there anything that surprised you in terms of what you found enjoyable about the process or in fact surprised you about what you found hard?

Rob Wozny: Yes, I’ll start with what I found challenging. I kind of use that word challenging because you know, you look back and you think, well, I don’t want to say it was hard. I mean, it was hard, a challenge, hard work. I really leaned into the challenge. You talked about the development edit like for that, I mean, when I saw the feedback I went, wow there’s a lot here, but the decision I made in that moment is that I have this time in my life that I’ve designated to put this book together and it’s either I lean into the feedback to make it as good as possible or I don’t.

So I chose to lean into it. And certainly you know, I think the manuscript and the book is much better for it because of the expertise of the team I was working with. So that was certainly the challenging aspect and I suppose, to some degree rewarding of it.

I think certainly the, you know, what I found most interesting was just the, seeing it come to life. You know, you talk to authors and they tell you that it can be anywhere from, you know, 18 months to many years to put a book together. Either one way or the other, it’s a process. It takes a long time and a long commitment, but just sticking with it and just seeing it come to life. I think that’s what was really motivating for me just to see it by page, by page, chapter, by chapter, edit, by edit. And then before you know, it, you know, the books were left on your doorstep and you’re opening it.

So you think back to when you started, to when you’re actually holding it. It’s just remarkable how fast it went by. In the moment you sometimes think, Wow. Am I ever going to get this done? Right.

Alison Jones: Yes, it’s like they say with children, what is it, the days are long, but the years are short.

I always ask people for their best tip as well. Rob. So you’ve given us already so many great tips actually for people writing business books and just generally for storytelling in business. But if you had to give one tip to somebody who’s listening and perhaps just starting out on their business book, what would you tell them?

Rob Wozny: I would say, you know, find what works for you for writing. That’s the, you know, when I was doing my research, just talking to authors, that’s the one thing I wanted to know: how did you write this book? What kept you on track? What was the motivating factor that kept you from the start to finish?

Because as you know, we keep saying it’s that middle, that there’s just so much that goes in to it. All good stuff, but still it’s a tremendous amount of work that usually comes when you’re working your regular work or your regular business or raising kids and doing all that other activity, you still have to squeeze in this energy and you want it to be your best energy.

So find what works for you. And I found a process that worked for me. I share it with anyone who ever asks, this works for me, it may not work for you, but like I took from other authors they shared with me, some of it not for me, some of it was, but in the end I formulated a process that certainly worked for me.

Alison Jones: Well, you’re going to have to tell us more about the process now, Rob we can’t just leave it there.

Rob Wozny: Well, I want to say that it’s a lot of, like I say, some incredible process, but truthfully, it’s rather simplistic in that what I did Alison, is I basically created a spreadsheet and I created chapter headings and I just kind of put sections in there. And then I created word count and page count and that just kept me on track seeing this document. And I just put in my comments on there. So I had this one focal point, but what was remarkable about it is that through that I could see the book come to life. I could, you know, I kept track of the page count. So I wrote a thousand, you know, 1200 words one weekend, and guess what, the word count went up. And then after about four months you look like, wow, I’ve written half this book.

So you just see this ongoing rolling tally of the progress that you’re making. And again, that’s just a very simplistic view of technology around us and how we track our fitness goals and whatever it is.

I just created a process that helped me track and see the progress. And that really worked for me.

Alison Jones: Yes, I mean you say it’s simple. It is simple, but it’s also genius and it’s not just the tracking, is it? It’s not just that sense of watching it grow. It’s also, you know what you’re doing next, you know, you’re not just sort of looking at a blank page going now what, you know what the next section is, what the heading is that you’ve got to address.

And I think those two things together are really, really powerful. Great tip. Thank you.

And as you know, I always ask everybody to recommend a book as well. So I’m interested, I’m afraid you’re not allowed to recommend Storytelling for Business, but what would you recommend to people listening?

Rob Wozny: Well, I’m going to recommend a book that you and I both know and love. It’s called Advice That Sticks by Dr. Moira Somers. So she is also a Practical Inspiration author but this is a fantastic book. Dr. Moira Somers is a financial psychologist and if you know, Moira, she has a wonderful sense of humor about her and she has such an expertise in what she does.

And it’s all woven so beautifully and so creatively in this book. And it’s really, you know, when I read Moira’s book, I thought, you know, I was really inspired to give it a go certainly with my book, but it’s a fantastic book, fantastic book about anyone who’s looking for how to give advice that sticks in the financial world but what’s great about it is that there’s so much utility is that it can apply to a lot of other aspects of your life. right?

 So this is the book I strongly recommend. It’s Advice That Sticks; How to give financial advice that people will follow by Dr Moira Somers so that’s my book.

Alison Jones: I mean, nobody’s recommended that before which kills me, so ,wonderful thank you. And you’re dead right, because it feels, if you looked at that, looked at the description of it, you think that’s quite a niche book and I’m not a financial advisor, therefore I don’t need it, but it’s actually beautifully written. I mean, if you are writing a business book, it’s a really good model, isn’t it?

Because it’s the humour and the expertise are so beautifully balanced in it. And there’s so much just about how you instruct people in a way that starts from where they are rather than from where you are.

So even if you’re not a financial advisor, if you’re a coach or if you’re a consultant, huge amount in there for you, great recommendation. Thank you.

And Rob if people want to find out more about you, more about Storytelling for Business and all the other stuff that you do, where should they go?

Rob Wozny: Well, I think the easiest place, which has links to all my media network is my website, which is robwozny.com

Alison Jones: Fantastic. And people can go there and not just find out more about you, but also see how you put your media network together and get some ideas from that. Brilliant.

Well, what a pleasure to talk to you, Rob. Congratulations on the book and thank you for your time today.

Rob Wozny: Thank you for having me, Alison, it’s a pleasure to be here.

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