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Ep 520: Human Storytelling

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Storytelling is one of the things that makes humans human. In recruitment marketing and employer branding, stories persuade, create empathy and drive the emotional connections that make people take action.

With the rise of automation and generative AI, human-based storytelling will likely be a critical differentiator between employers. So do we understand how to tell compelling stories, and are our strategies around storytelling sophisticated enough to deal with a future of more disruptive change?

My guest this week is Lauryn Sargent, Co-Founder of Stories Incorporated and an expert in storytelling for recruitment marketing and employer branding. I caught up with Lauryn at the recent UNLEASH America conference to hear her thoughts on the future of storytelling and listen to the great advice she had to share.

In the interview, we discuss:

• Does TA understand storytelling on a strategic level?

• What are the elements of a great story?

• Psychological safety

• Structuring the perfect story interview

• Making content work in different channels and formats

• The impact of generative AI

• The future of recruitment marketing

Listen to this podcast in Apple Podcasts.

Transcript:

Metaview (0s):
Support for this podcast comes from Metaview, the platform that uses AI to automatically write your interview notes for you powered by GPT-4. Recruiters and hiring managers at companies like Robinhood, Brex, and Genentech describe Metaview as a game changer for their efficiency and ability to have high-quality conversations with candidates. They can focus on the conversation rather than on taking notes. Metaview interview summaries are purpose-built for recruiting, so they’re 10 times more accurate and relevant than generic transcription tools. And, they work seamlessly with your recruiting stack, video conferencing tools, and even mobile calls so there s no need to change your existing workflows.

Metaview (49s):
You can see the magic for yourself for free on your first five interviews. Head over to metaview.ai/recruitingfuture. That’s metaview.ai/recruitingfuture to get started.

Matt Alder (Intro) (1m 23s):
Hi there. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 520 of the Recruiting Future podcast. Storytelling is one of the things that makes humans human. In recruitment marketing and employer branding, stories persuade, create empathy and drive the emotional connections that make people take action. With the rise of automation and generative AI, human-based storytelling will likely be a critical differentiator between employers. So do we understand how to tell compelling stories, and are our strategies around storytelling sophisticated enough to deal with a future of more disruptive change?

Matt Alder (Intro) (2m 7s):
My guest this week is Lauryn Sargent, Co-Founder of Stories Incorporated and an expert in storytelling for recruitment marketing and employer branding. I caught up with Lauryn at the recent UNLEASH America conference to hear her thoughts on the future of storytelling and listen to the great advice she had to share.

Matt Alder (2m 27s):
So, hi Lauryn, and welcome to the podcast.

Lauryn Sargent (2m 29s):
Thanks for having me. I’m really delighted to be here.

Matt Alder (2m 33s):
My absolute pleasure. We are here at UNLEASH in Vegas. How’s the show been for you so far? What interesting things have you seen, or done, or listened to?

Lauryn Sargent (2m 44s):
It’s been great for me. I really enjoyed. Yesterday there’s a panel on pay transparency and that’s something small company. I’m like 22. My company’s like 22 people, but I’m doing some recruiting right now. And I used to be a recruiter in the past. I have actually struggled with how do we, you know, with that topic. And it was great to see large organizations in all the different ways they’re thinking about it. That was great. And the fact that actually, it’s one company was saying, one person at a company was saying, it’s not actually the external stuff that is the challenge. It’s the internal communication and what that means for transparency and discussions.

Lauryn Sargent (3m 27s):
And people understanding what different bands are, and where they are in that band. And learning for the first time maybe what band their manager’s in and those types of things that really impact engagement and the barrier to even broaching the subject of pay transparency. So it’s not even really about candidates as much as it is about internal employees. So I thought that was great. I had a great time there.

Matt Alder (3m 47s):
Yeah, no. It’s so, I mean it’s always great these kind of shows because there’s so many different topics that kind of get covered. I suppose to start with. We should ask you to introduce yourself and tell us what you do. What does your company do?

Lauryn Sargent (3m 59s):
Yes. My name is Lauryn Sergeant. I’m a Co-Founder in the company called of Stories Incorporated. This is our 10th year in business. We do two things really well. The first is that we uncover stories from employees our clients choose that really communicate the culture, the job, and the team. And then the second thing we do is we create media from those stories. Optimized per candidate or employee-facing channel. So LinkedIn career sites, all hands internets, those types of things.

Matt Alder (4m 32s):
I love the whole, everything about storytelling. It’s always been a, you know, something that’s kind of fascinated me. Do you think as an industry employers understand storytelling and the power of it and how important it is as much as they should do? Or is it –?

Lauryn Sargent (4m 48s):
No. And I think, no. And I also think it’s something that’s very easy to say and has been said for years about how storytelling is so important. And I’m a storyteller, you know, all of this. But when you actually like, dig down to what stories are you telling and what are the impact, it’s pretty thin.

Matt Alder (5m 1s):
Yeah.

Lauryn Sargent (5m 2s):
So we still have a lot to go as an industry. I think people know the importance, but from a very surface, and wow, that sounds good and a strategic in-the-cloud idea. But when it comes down to the tactical, the brass tax and the implementation of those things and actually changing perception or gaining engagement or having candidates select in and out, those things are still pretty thin. We got a lot of long way to go still.

Matt Alder (5m 27s):
Yeah. So talk us through the elements of a good story. So, you obviously, we can talk about how you find stories and broadcast them and all that kind of stuff. But let’s just get back to the absolute basics like, what makes a great story?

Lauryn Sargent (5m 40s):
Yeah. You know, there’s eight things that we kind of use to define a story. And we don’t have to go through all eight. But I’ll tell you the ones that I think are really important for culture communication to keep it easy. Like these are again, when your storytelling under with the lens — I know that’s been said a lot today, but the lens of communicating a culture or an employee experience, I think one thing that’s very important is the balance of personal and professional stories. You absolutely have to have information about a person’s work life. But how it impacts their personal life is really a gold standard. On top of that, so I guess what’s on top of gold. You know, like the best ever is to also make sure that you have the company as a character.

Lauryn Sargent (6m 25s):
It is all about the employee and their experience, but when you’re communicating culture, you do have to involve the company. And like the decision they’ve made that has impacted the employee or the thing that the employee’s gone through that the company has supported and had to change or figure out. So, to me, those are the best elements of a story that’s meant to engage employees or candidates.

Matt Alder (6m 47s):
And I suppose it’s that kind of, you know, it’s that sense of a journey, isn’t it?

Lauryn Sargent (6m 49s):
Yeah.

Matt Alder (6m 50s):
It’s kind of like this is what happened. This is what they overcame.

Lauryn Sargent (6m 55s):
Yeah.

Matt Alder (6m 56s):
I love the idea of the company as a character in the story.

Lauryn Sargent (7m 3s):
Yeah.

Matt Alder (7m 4s):
That’s a really interesting way of thinking it. And how do people go about finding stories? Because I think that seems to be maybe an issue for a lot of, you know — how do I find these stories? Looking for something that’s interesting or something that’s gonna sort of tick all of those boxes.

Lauryn Sargent (7m 24s):
Yes. I think we have a perspective here. There’s no one way. But what I think the best way to, first of all find the storyteller and then also apply a method on top of it for interviewing. That gets a great story every time. I mean, that’s what we say, we get a great story every time from every person, no matter who it is, but just start with the people that you’re asking to share. Sometimes we do know that someone, that something has happened. Someone’s raised their hand. I wanna talk about this thing that I went through that the employer helped me through. But oftentimes it’s more of like the company saying, “Okay, why you want to talk about women leadership and mentorship? So, therefore, let’s pick our best most talented mentors that clearly have a track record of growing talent or the person who has been able to skyrocket their career because they’ve been so well mentored.

Lauryn Sargent (8m 15s):
So picking, you don’t have to necessarily know what the story is before. But having an idea of the types of people that you’ll ask because of the types of experience you think they have. On top of that though, I think it must, must, must, but again, consider my perspective because of what we do. It has to be a conversational interview.

Matt Alder (8m 34s):
Yeah.

Lauryn Sargent (8m 35s):
Everything’s facilitated for us. We think a lot about psychological safety. You know, people sharing, in some cases, sometimes I say every third interview day is like somebody’s crying.

Matt Alder (8m 45s):
Yeah.

Lauryn Sargent (8m 45s):
There can be some emotional things, but do you really want to — the employee storyteller, the person that you’re trying to get great content from and stories from and get getting them to share, it’s prepping them just enough so they’re comfortable, “Hey, we’re gonna talk about your experience here. Hey, we’re probably only gonna use 30 seconds, but please expound.” You know?

Matt Alder (9m 6s):
Yeah.

Lauryn Sargent (9m 6s):
“And hey, don’t be concerned about how you look because it’s professional and you wanna see what you look like with great lighting.” So just making sure people are really comfortable to share, and then making sure that the interview process is facilitated and conversational.

Matt Alder (9m 22s):
Yeah.

Lauryn Sargent (9m 22s):
So it’s not like I’m gonna ask you 10 questions. It’s really listening and asking. When you do it, when you interview for your video, sometimes it’s like, “That was great. I think it’s really cool that XYZ happened. Can you tell it again?

Matt Alder (9m 37s):
Yeah.

Lauryn Sargent (9m 37s):
You know, focusing it in or like expounding it up. So anyway, that’s a long answer to your story. To your question.

Matt Alder (9m 43s):
No. It’s a great answer. As I say, I find this whole thing absolutely fascinating.

Lauryn Sargent (9m 47s):
You would because you’re, yeah, well, to what your doing, right?

Matt Alder (9m 52s):
Yeah, absolutely. And so I suppose in that bit of safety there, does it help that you are kind of an independent –?

Lauryn Sargent (9m 59s):
Yes.

Matt Alder (9m 59s):
— who’s removed from the employer? Do you think that is — well, obviously, you think that’s a great way to do it because that’s what your business does.

Lauryn Sargent (10m 5s):
Right.

Matt Alder (10m 5s):
But do you think that’s something the employer should be mindful of if they’re trying to get people to tell stories, having that sort of that kind of distance from the person?

Lauryn Sargent (10m 15s):
I think it’s an advantage, but it’s not a necessity that it’s an outside. It could be somebody that works at the company. I mean of course, yes, that’s we’re an outside party that comes in. I think what’s most important to think about is just that if the audience is candidates. If you do work together, there’s a shorthand. And that’s not helpful sometimes to candidates.

Matt Alder (10m 35s):
Yes.

Lauryn Sargent (10m 35s):
It’s nice to have it something. What is that acronym? Or what does that mean? Or I don’t know what happens on Taco Tuesdays. Maybe I do, I don’t know. You know what I mean? But whatever it is. It’s like it’s nice to have that like, “Oh, I don’t know what that is. Can you explain it? I don’t know what your job is. Can you explain it? Oh, interesting. So you work on Saturdays? Oh, I didn’t know.” You know, those types of things. They are helpful to candidates, so that’s one thing.

Matt Alder (11m 7s):
So you’ve got the — we’ve talked about the storytelling and the things that make it stand out and how you get the stories and all those sort of things. Where do we tell these stories, and how? I mean, how do you take that kind of content and make it work in different channels for different audiences and all those things?

Lauryn Sargent (11m 28s):
Yes. So it’s just the hardest part is getting the great content, but once you have it, don’t mess it up. Don’t make it distracting and hard for people to consume it. So one is understanding the channels really well. And s there, sometimes there’s the classics of things you can Google, “Hey, what kind of content performs best on LinkedIn?” But a lot of it is testing and seeing what the engagement’s like. The algorithms change all the time. So sometimes it’s just, it’s that. But you don’t, and also using, not being afraid to use it many times. Yes, you don’t want to use the same story a zillion times and tire it out as if this is the only grid thing that ever happened at your company. But with space, you can try a 30 second snippet video here.

Lauryn Sargent (12m 10s):
You can try an audio clip of the same story in another format to see what works. But I think what’s most important is understanding the channels, testing, and then getting it right and relaunch if you have to. It’s no big deal.

Matt Alder (12m 24s):
I think that’s interesting as well. Because I think that a lot of the time when you talk about storytelling, people are imagining this is a long-form video.

Lauryn Sargent (12m 34s):
Yeah.

Matt Alder (12m 35s):
This is kind of something that requires deep engagement and all this kind of stuff. But you know, a photo can be story.

Lauryn Sargent (12m 45s):
Yes.

Matt Alder (12m 45s):
And you, you know, so it’s kind of like what do you have? Obviously, things are channel-specific. But are there formats that work for particular types of story better?

Lauryn Sargent (12m 53s):
Yes. Well, I think it depends. We really do like short stories, but they have to be to the point then. It can’t be, you know, we have this thought of like, “Just don’t make it a testimonial. I like working here. That is not a story. It does not help.”

Matt Alder (13m 9s):
Yeah.

Lauryn Sargent (13m 9s):
But I do think for some of the longer form type contents. Like the most popular video that we sell, because it is so versatile is like 90 seconds or less. And in 90-second video or story, you can have one person that actually can get into it with you that’s still substantive, but it’s fast. Or you could have a theme where you have two to three people sharing a story that aligns to that theme to make — so, that it’s shows that culture’s pervasive. That I think is really powerful. It’s like, it’s just not this one person’s experience.

Matt Alder (13m 43s):
Yeah.

Lauryn Sargent (13m 43s):
It’s several people’s experience, you know, that’s tied to a value or a theme that that company’s trying to convey about their culture.

Matt Alder (13m 52s):
And with business storytelling, I suppose that very often people don’t talk about things like empathy and emotional connections and stuff like that. But that’s vital in any kind of storytelling, isn’t it?

Lauryn Sargent (14m 1s):
It is. And we do get those types of stories. But I have to tell you, my favorite projects we’ve ever done that we just wrapped was a project for a gaming company that was doing rewards and recognition and they wanted to do something different. So we came up together with this idea of filming a conversation between a manager and an employee. We facilitate the discussion and we filmed it. But the questions were like, “What do you like about being my manager?” It got very emotional.

Matt Alder (14m 31s):
Yeah.

Lauryn Sargent (14m 31s):
And then at the very end, the team member was told that they won a culture award. But in that discussion, it’s like the manager highlighting all the things that they had done for appreciation. So I love that because it was a con — we were there. We were facilitating, but it was a conversation between two people who had a good relationship. And that came through. You know, we did this, I wanna say we made 10 videos this way, 10 different pairs, or 10 different culture awards. And that was really powerful because it was like a, it showed the connection, which is hard to convey. It’s hard to show.

Matt Alder (15m 7s):
Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Now I have to ask you this because you can’t move in this place without someone talking to you about generative AI.

Lauryn Sargent (15m 16s):
Yeah.

Matt Alder (15m 16s):
In fact, I was running a panel on talent audits and workforce planning this morning. And the first thing —

Lauryn Sargent (15m 24s):
I was there. It was very good.

Matt Alder (15m 24s):
It were. And the first thing someone said was generative AI, which I hadn’t even thought would come into the conversation. So it, as I say, it’s the big story at the moment.

Lauryn Sargent (15m 34s):
Yeah, it is.

Matt Alder (15m 35s):
And you know, one of the use cases that’s been identified is things like writing job descriptions and recruitment marketing and all that sort of stuff. Where does that fit in with storytelling in humans? What’s gonna happen?

Lauryn Sargent (15m 47s):
You Know, maybe this, maybe ask me six months from now I’ll have a different answer. Although at the panel today, someone was saying, hey, this has existed for four years. This is not new. It’s just more accessible than, you know.

Matt Alder (15m 58s):
Yeah. Which is true. Yeah.

Lauryn Sargent (15m 60s):
Yeah. But I would say that because our focus is on one person’s experience, that isn’t something that can be generated or replicated. Where I would see it help us is when we write potentially would be when we interview someone and get transcripts or maybe helping with interview questions. Even like, if we would submit like questions we might ask. That said our process is still, we’re not gonna sit and ask the questions, but could help with some planning and just some things to ask. But in terms of the content itself, because we’re so focused on one person’s experience.

Matt Alder (16m 31s):
Yeah.

Lauryn Sargent (16m 31s):
It’s so human. I don’t know if that how — but again, ask me six months. Maybe I’ll have a whole different — but right now I’m not seeing a huge, you know, something huge hap impacting our work the way we do project.

Matt Alder (16m 44s):
I mean what strikes me about it is if everyone starts using ChatGPT, whatever it is for recruitment marketing, then I know these are large language models. I know you can get them to do different things. But I suspect that lots of marketing will look very similar.

Lauryn Sargent (17m 4s):
Yeah.

Matt Alder (17m 4s):
Just because people will be asking very similar questions to the models. So surely then human-based storytelling becomes a massive differentiator for employers who invest in that kind of approach.

Lauryn Sargent (17m 17s):
Yes. Well, and someone asked me today, we didn’t go into this to the depth that we did, the depth right now. But they asked me, “Well, do [unintelligible] even care that’s you did to real employees? Because couldn’t you just like put it, something that’s AI-generated in like the script, and there it is and it’s a fake thing.

Matt Alder (17m 36s):
Yeah.

Lauryn Sargent (17m 36s):
I’m like, but it does matter. I mean, do candidates know? Maybe. But you would know, the candidate would know. The authentic — you’re all after. I know authenticity has been overused, but that would just fly in the face of everything that you’re trying to communicate about your brand if it’s all fake. You know, like —

Matt Alder (17m 54s):
Yeah. And I think that’s interesting about authenticity as well because we’ve been through a very long period where the authenticity is kind of thrown around like agile and other words and they almost become meaningless.

Lauryn Sargent (18m 7s):
Yes. Sure.

Matt Alder (18m 8s):
But I think that we’re heading back to an era where authenticity has never been more important. Where everything can be fake, and ultimately, you wanna persuade people to for your organization. And if you fake that and it’s not authentic, then people won’t stay and what’s the point?

Lauryn Sargent (18m 25s):
Right. Oh, Nightmare, right?

Matt Alder (18m 28s):
Yeah.

Lauryn Sargent (18m 29s):
I mean, yeah, it’s not the expectation. You’re not setting the right expectation what the culture’s like and it’s like re retention disaster. Totally.

Matt Alder (18m 38s):
Yeah. Absolutely. Question about the future to finish off with.

Lauryn Sargent (18m 41s):
Yeah. Sure.

Matt Alder (18m 41s):
How do you think recruitment marketing’s going to develop? Because to me, recruitment marketing’s still kind of a long way behind other forms of marketing, particularly not just with technology, but also with things like storytelling and that kind of stuff. What do you hope’s gonna happen over the next few years? You know, AI withstanding.

Lauryn Sargent (19m 1s):
Yeah.

Matt Alder (19m 2s):
Where would you like to see recruitment marketing going?

Lauryn Sargent (19m 4s):
Well, my answer’s going to be strange because I’m gonna start with something that isn’t quite related to recruitment marketing. But one of the biggest frustrations that I’ve had for years and years and years is that we create this great content and it’s got one purpose, one purpose only because large organizations are so siloed. So like we create a great series for employer brand internal comms doesn’t see it, or engagement doesn’t see it or alumni doesn’t see it. And I’d say that now we are seeing this evolution where people are developing kind of storytelling practices where it’s very well disseminated. We’re selling a lot into corporate communications because they have so many different audiences. And things have changed, especially during COVID, where employee stories are being used to communicate culture and what organizations do for people.

Lauryn Sargent (19m 50s):
And there’s just so many different audiences who care about them now. Like companies being canceled because of the way they’ve treated an employee. And so like, it’s very important to show that you’re progressive and working on things and having employee stories. So I’d say that recruitment marketing, just basically being more of a steward of the story to get that to other avenues that we see that happening, which is wonderful for me. Like I love that. But also I, you know, just as every, with every time a new channel pops up, it’s a new way to think about how to tell a story on that channel that’s most effective. So I’d say that that’s always going to evolve and just every time a different place where candidates go to find out, find information about a culture that’s a different way to tell stories and have to figure that out.

Lauryn Sargent (20m 35s):
So, and also, I mean, I think, the one thing that is kind of surprising is, you know, we just came up through COVID. I mean, I know I still talk about all the time. But like, we had this thought of filming at home, which we did too. We filmed at home.

Matt Alder (20m 56s):
Yeah.

Lauryn Sargent (20m 56s):
But I’d say that even then, that would’ve been the time that relaxed video standards and would have become more accepted. And I think audiences are even more being discerning about quality, substance, and visual. So I’d say that I actually think it’s going to be in the other direction of kind of where I am as opposed to more unpolished content.

Matt Alder (21m 20s):
Right.

Lauryn Sargent (21m 21s):
That’s put that’s my perspective. We’ll see.

Matt Alder (21m 24s):
Lauryn, thank you very much for talking to me.

Lauryn Sargent (21m 26s):
Oh no, thank you. This is fun.

Matt Alder (21m 28s):
My thanks to Lauryn. You can subscribe to this podcast in Apple Podcasts, on Spotify or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all the past episodes at recruitingfuture.com. On that site, you can also subscribe to our monthly newsletter, Recruiting Future Feast, and get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show.

Matt Alder (22m 23s):
Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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