Review by CELC’s Jodie Luu: Humanizing Corporate Communications with Storytelling – Tips from Anjali Sharma

by Jodie Luu

As of January 2021, Statista reports that more than half of the global population are active Internet users, and most of them access the Internet via mobile devices. Such hyperconnectivity has paradoxically resulted in a world where people have too much information yet too little time to process. This forms an appealing premise for the 6th CELC Speaker Series featuring Anjali Sharma, founder of Narrative: The Business of Stories, who sets out to share with the academic community how storytelling can drive business outcomes and personal success.

True to the narrative focus of the talk, Anjali charismatically walked the audience through the three key sections of her talk with a series of stories spanning across times and space. Using the 12-step manufacturing of a safety pin as an analogy, Anjali began her talk by foregrounding how the alienation of labour in the hyper-specialised business environment disconnects employees from the big picture and makes them lose sight of the meaning of their work. She also addressed the illusion of data analytics businesses are deploying to engage with their stakeholders.

“You may know a lot about me, but you don’t know me,” said Anjali.

And that is the crux of her key message – a story that does not listen is a story that disconnects with its target audience. In other words, businesses think that they know their customers through data, but they may not truly understand the real reasons behind why people post what they post on social media. The consequence of such superficial data analytics is correct narrative that does not connect.

To substantiate this point, Anjali retold the poignant story of Dr Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian physician working in the Vienna General Hospital in Austria in the 1840s. Semmelweis discovered the crucial role of hand-washing in preventing infectious diseases after rigorous observations and scientific experiments but failed to convince the medical community of his times.

Fast forward to our current times, Anjali shared how listening to a company’s employees about a digital transformation project shaped her narrative. The original narrative was about the importance of digital transformation, but conversations with the employees surfaced that they had already acknowledged the necessity of digital transformation propelled by the pandemic. What they needed to know was how to do it. By changing the focus of the narrative to the how of digital transformation, clarity was enhanced and understanding followed.

Anjali concretized the storytelling process by highlighting its seven elements as follows:

  1. Calendar / Time / Globe marker
  2. Setting that activate visualisation
  3. People having a dialogue
  4. Emotion
  5. Connected events
  6. Something happened
  7. Key message

Audience members who are well-versed with audience-centric communication principles or have been incorporating storytelling in their lessons in various ways would find these elements familiar. Nonetheless, the additional tips below would be beneficial for students (including adult learners) who wants to tell more compelling stories during a pitch, presentation or job interview:

  1. Storytelling is commonly used to influence, inspire and motivate.
  2. Emotion is powerful in creating resonance, but when applied in business storytelling, it should be described, not displayed.
  3. A rich story may have five to six events, but when facing time constraint, sticking to two or three events would keep the story concise.
  4. Corporate narratives tend to revolve around TIM (Time, Image and Money) while narratives in the government sector should focus on RIT (Results, Image and Time).

As fascinating as it may seem, the corporatization of storytelling as shown in the TIM and RIT formulae seems to perpetuate the corporate bottom lines of efficiency achieved, time saved and image built. Furthermore, the focus on alignment and resonance seems to have side-lined the ethical dimension of storytelling. Stories can connect, but they can also deceive. And if trust is one of the cornerstones of genuine human connection, shouldn’t storytelling start with the truth instead of what people want to hear?

The growing literature on organizational storytelling, and recently data storytelling, shows that businesses around the world have started to show more interest in humanizing their corporate communications with storytelling. For educators on a mission to help learners become able communicators, the talk has certainly affirmed the place of ethical storytelling in the professional communication syllabus.


Boldosova, V., & Luoto, S. (2020). Storytelling, business analytics and big data interpretation: Literature review and theoretical propositions. Management Research Review, 43(2), 204-222.

Choi, E. (2021, March 19). 5 Business Storytelling Insights from Around The Globe. Forbes.

Internet users in the world 2021. (2021, January 27). Statista.

Roam, D. (2016). Show and Tell: How Everybody Can Make Extraordinary Presentations (New ed.). USA: Portfolio.

Thier, K. (2018). Storytelling in Organizations: A Narrative Approach to Change, Brand, Project and Knowledge Management. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer.

Strochlic, N. (2020, March 7). ‘Wash your hands’ was once controversial medical advice. National Geographic.


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