How Storytelling Can Increase Employee Engagement with Jerome Deroy, CEO of Narativ

Reading Time: 19 Minutes

In this interview, Jerome DeRoy, CEO of Narativ shares the power of storytelling in business.

After the Interview:

About Jerome DeRoy

Jerome is passionate about the power of storytelling for business. As the CEO of Narativ, Jerome has worked closely with clients including CIGNA, Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Janssen Pharma, and Warby Parker to craft business-relevant personal stories for sales, leadership, and team building. He lectures at Parsons New School of Design on the art of storytelling.

Read the Transcript

This transcript was auto-generated from the original video recording using Otter Voice Meeting Notes. While the transcript has not been human edited, we hope it will still help you to quickly find or reference useful information from the interview


Deliberate Leaders. I am your host Allison Dunn, Executive Coach and Founder of the Deliberate Leaders podcast dedicated to helping leaders build strong, thriving businesses. Each episode, we feature inspiring interviews to help you on your leadership journey. And I’m super excited to introduce our guests today, we have with us, Jerome DeRoy, who is the CEO of Narrative. He is passionate about the power of storytelling for business. For the past 13 years, Jerome has worked closely with clients to craft business relevant personal stories for sales leadership, team building, he regularly lectures at Parsons, new School of Design in New York City, and on the art of storytelling. Jerome, thank you so much for joining us here today.


You’re welcome. Thank you for having me.


Absolutely. So I like to kick these off with a deliberate conversation. Would you mind sharing your number one leadership tip with our listeners?


Hmm. Well, at the risk of maybe repeating what some of your other guests might have said, listening for me is the number one tip for leaders. Because without listening, there can be no story to tell. And that’s what I’m all about is storytelling. And I want the stories to be impactful. But if nobody’s listening, no matter how great your story is wonderful your presentation is and you’ve got great visuals and you’ve rehearsed it, you know, to no end. If you show up and it doesn’t land and nobody’s listening to you, then it won’t have any impact. So that’s my number one tip is keep listening and don’t take listening for granted. Just do it.


To room I will share with you no one has ever said listening as their number one chip. I would say as a coach, that is my number one tip. So I like I like the way that you think that’s great. So you, you work with leaders to really help them figure out how to do storytelling as a way to increase their leadership, their sales, their employee engagement. Talk me through that process a little bit. I mean, is there a science to it?


iWell, for sure, I mean, you know, storytelling itself, we think of it as an art. We think of it as perhaps a talent that some people have, and some people don’t have. The truth is that it’s actually a science. And the reason I can say that with such confidence is that there have been studies many studies as a matter of fact, on the human brain, and establishing the connection between people who were listening to stories, so they put them in MRIs and CAT scans. And they looked at what was going on in the brain. And they noticed that certain wires were firing when you were listening to a story. And the same wires were firing when you were telling a story. So we know that storytelling is actually something that the brain responds to. And it sort of explains why when you are listening to a really good story, or watching a great movie, whatever it might be, you cannot help but want to know what happens next. If you get interrupted, it’s going to become really, really frustrating. And so that’s the science behind it is that our brains are actually hardwired for storytelling. And that’s kind of the foundation for everything we do. So from there, what we simply do is help people harness what the brain naturally understands the brain naturally understand story structure, it knows what a cliffhanger looks like, it knows what a good hook at the beginning looks like. It knows what resolution looks like, not only does it know what it looks like, but it looks for those things. So that if you have someone who’s going on and on and on, and not getting to the resolution of the story, the brain becomes very frustrated and we become kind of, you know, we need to know we become impatient and we need to know what how is this going to end? What’s the point of this?


Okay. How it so you’re saying everyone naturally is a storyteller in some way. Some good some bad? Um, in helping someone work through what their story for their business might be, like, could you just kind of walk us through an example structure of what that would be?


Yeah. So we have a particular method at narrative my company and we have a book called powered by storytelling which is, which is essentially our method distill into chapters. So each chapter is a step of a method. And so I’ll walk you through a couple of those steps. But there’s sort of two real cornerstones of this without going into too much detail. Whenever we engage with someone, we I’m going to go back to what I said at the beginning, we work first, on listening, we don’t go right away, our process is not to sort of ask someone to tell a story right away and critique it, you know, I’m going to be Simon Cowell and you’re going to be whoever, you know, the nice one is, and you know, that those sort of thing. That’s not how we operate, because that’s, there’s no better recipe than to, then that to shut down someone. So we start with listening. And what we reason we do is because we hold that there’s a relationship between listening and telling, and that that relationship is reciprocal. Meaning that the way you’re listening to me right now, is shaping how I’m speaking. So if suddenly, we had a technological problem, and I couldn’t hear you, or you couldn’t hear me, that would be an obstacle to listening for us. And we would have to stop. Right? Now, that sounds pretty easy in this context, and that example that I gave, but think of the number of people, you’ve seen do presentations, and they sort of put their PowerPoint up, and they barrel through it, right. And the only goal is to get to the end within the 510 minutes, 15 minutes I’ve got, and so you’ve lost all your listeners, because you’re not paying attention to the listening. So that’s where we start. What are the obstacles that get in the way of your ability to listen to others, and to listen to yourself. And the number one obstacle that comes up is judgment, and self criticism. Those kinds of things are really big barriers to your own creativity, as we all know, and there’s no reason why that wouldn’t be the case in business. So we start with listening. And once we’ve sort of, you know, level the playing field and clear this late a little bit, and we know what the obstacles are. And we’ve raised people’s awareness around this. Now we look at the app, what is your message? What are you trying to tell your audience? And what’s that human value or theme, or even maybe human emotion that this is conveying? Right? So if you take a security alarm, alarm for the home, for example, security alarms for the home, you know, they’re out that theme, or value is going to be safety, or something around safety. And close to safety is the opposite of it, which is that you feel unsafe. So now we have a we have a sort of lead in terms of what kind of story should we tell, we want to show this audience how you’re going to take them from feeling unsafe to feeling safe. And that’s very universal, that’s very human, we’re not going to take the audience through all the features and technical data of this product and why it’s such a great product, we’ve got to hit the themes of those emotional things that human beings feel. And once we’ve got that theme, and everybody agrees on it, then we looked for the lived experiences, what’s happened in your life, that shows me this from going to unsafe to feeling safe, right? And in telling the story, this is the next cornerstone of it. You have to be able to answer the question what happened as you craft your story. Every story is about what happened. And that sounds pretty obvious. But what’s really hard is that most people will talk about what they felt about something that happened, what they thought about something that happened, what their interpretations were, what their opinions were. And none of that is a story. None of that is something that I can wrap my head around, most people will say things well, you know, I really felt like I needed to go in a different direction in my life, and I needed to change. And so you know, I took an action and that action led me to, I don’t know what the story I don’t know what happened there. And I’ve heard those words. So many times, it’s like talking to a best friend, right? You can do that with a best friend because they know who you are. But when you don’t know your audience, and your audience doesn’t know you, you’ve got to give them the facts of your life. The facts of your experience, right? And so that’s kind of what we the discipline of it. And then we look at structure, you know, and What elements do you have, but from a process point of view, going from listening to then finding that value, finding the lived experience and finally, you know, really shaping it as what I call a what happened story, as opposed to all the things that go on in your head. That’s what we really want to get to.


I definitely feel like Storytelling is something that I personally lack in myself. And I think it’s that latter part of what happened. And so, for me, just from for our conversation here together, helped me dive into getting good at the what happened.


Well think of it as, as a camera that’s following you around. Okay. And that camera it can hear it can see. So it’s like you’re in your own documentary, basically. And you’ve got a crew that’s going around and following every move you make. And so they can see everything, they can hear everything. But this camera is particularly smart and clever, because it also has the three other senses. So it can touch it can smell it can hear it. Sorry, how many? How many senses? Are there? Five? Yes, exactly. So all five senses are there, including what goes on in the body inside the body. So I’ll give you an example. I had a career switch, right when I was in my late 20s. So I went from finance, to then going into film. And then finally, that’s what led me to where I am today. Now I can tell it to you exactly like that. Right. And before I started to look at the what happened, I probably would have said something like, to the extent of what I was talking about earlier, I’ll tell you all my feelings and thoughts about this, this period of my life. But what actually happened was this is that on a Monday morning, after one of our Monday morning meetings that we always had, I went back to my desk, and I typed in three words into my search engine. One was film, another one was business. And another was New York, technically, that’s two words. So four words, and, and then I got my third cup of coffee was 10am. And then I went into my boss’s office, his name was Lawrence. And I sat across his mahogany desk, and he said, Do we have a meeting? And I said, No. And he said, Well, what is this about? And I said, Lawrence, I quit. And six months later, I’m in New York City. And so I can go on with that, right? But that’s the difference. And that’s what we’re looking for here. So when you ask, you know, how do I get good at this? It’s like you’re noticing what’s in the environment? Exactly. Like you would if you were the one holding the camera, right? It’s easier for us to do this for other people. Because when you witness what’s going on with somebody else, something happens in the street or at your favorite coffee shop, you’re probably gonna go and tell your friend Oh my gosh, never, you’ll never guess what happened today, someone slipped on a banana peel, and then the ambulance came and all of that there was coffee everywhere, you can describe those details. And that’s what’s engaging your friend, right. So in a business setting, and when it’s you, you have to put yourself in that position to where you sort of take a little bit of distance from what happened. And you have to what makes it easier is that you have to identify those moments that carried an emotional value for you that kind of resonated with you something you’re never going to forget, basically, I’ll never forget, you know, the, the look on my boss’s face when I told him I quit. I’ll never forget, you know that I had three cups of coffee that day that, you know, it was a Monday morning meeting, like, these were all the things that were important to me at the time. And with a little bit of distance, I could realize that and I could see that. And so once I know that, then I can look at what exactly happened. What was my desk? Like? What was the view? Like? You know, what did my boss say in return? You know, what did I say? These are the kinds of things that you use. And the more you do this, by the way, at the beginning, it’s very hard, because you kind of have to go back in your memory. And it’s a little bit like exercises, a new muscle exercising a new muscle. But the more you do it, the more you’ll notice that your memory is actually going to get better and more details are going to come up for you. So but I think the analogy of the camera is really the best thing you know, if you ollie have a particular you know, since that for you is the thing, you know, if you’re a visual person, or maybe it’s about scent, whatever it might be, then go there, go to the those moments in your life where something happened for you and you’re never going to forget that image, go to that image, right? And then think about what the message is that you want to that you want to convey to your audience and really unpack that image. What happened right before that image happened, what happened right after you know, and then you just keep going and you can never get stuck because you keep asking yourself what happened? What happened next, what happened next? It’s deceptively simple.


That explanation is the best explanation that I have had in how to Like unpacking the story in the what happened. So thank you very much that was credibly helpful. I often wonder when I’m listening to stories, because I do appreciate a really good story and go like, why can’t I? Why can’t I tell stories that way too. And I think you’ve just, you’ve just kind of nailed it. It’s like the camera of being in the moment with them and describing it enough so that you can understand it. And almost like, get there with them. Yeah, I’m in business. What? When is the story not okay to tell? Or what type of stories do you suggest people not share?


Well, you know, the first question that that’s part of our process actually is asking, Why do I need a story? And why now? So that when you answer that, you, you the implicit part of it is that well, maybe it’s not the time for a story. And it’s hard for me to answer that in a very general way. Because it’s a very personal choice, right? It’s sort of like, what but you can but I would I can speak to is how to get to a response, and how to sort of figure out whether it’s a good time to tell their story or not. So first, you, you start with that question, you start by asking yourself, why do I need a story? And why now? Is there an opportunity for me to engage my audience in such a way that I know that I’m going to engage that thing in their brain, that’s going to make them want to know what happens next. So if I have a presentation that’s, you know, really heavy on data, and feels a bit dry, to me, probably a great time to tell a story, write something to illustrate it something to bring it to life. If and now the second thing, if I look at my audience, so first is the topic, look at the topic and see if there’s an opportunity for a story or not. And do we because we use stories in order to engage others and to connect with them. So that’s really what you’re looking for in terms of that, that content that you’ve got, if it doesn’t naturally have that, then yes, a story would probably be good, if it already is very, very engaging. And maybe a story just repeats what’s already there. Maybe you don’t need a story. So that’s the first thing is the content. Second thing is your audience. And that’s probably the most important thing, knowing who you’re talking to. If this is like the 10th time that you meet with your investor, and they know the story, they know all the things, they know that they’re going to get their ROI, they’ve already signed on the dotted line, you know, and now what they want is to know the numbers, right? Probably not the best time for a story, right, you’re just going to talk about the numbers with this person that you already know. So these are just examples. But I think it’s up to the person themselves to sort of gauge whether or not it’s a good time for a story, I don’t think any type of story is, is inappropriate, as long as you are relating it to your audience, and to your topic, if it’s got nothing to do with your topic, or nothing to do with your audience, then definitely mix it. And the best way to know that is to is to find somebody that you trust, to try it out on other people, and ask them what you’re telling them what you’re looking for in terms of feedback. You know, I, here’s who I’m going to tell this story to, you know them as well, I want to tell it to you so that you give me a sense of whether this is a good story to tell or not. So I think the practice really does make perfect and it’s best to practice these things rather than trying something, you know, for the first time when you’re not completely sure.


Right. I, I run engagement programs over the years. And one of the one of the sessions that we do in small groups of leaders is we do a storytelling component of it. And so I’ve listened to a lot of stories and people sharing, and it’s often the first time that they are sharing an experience because we asked them to pick an experience that is maybe a challenge for them to share. But there was a good outcome to it. So it is interesting to see how people pull the component of stories together and how incredibly powerful that can be. Yeah. Could you share with me because I know that an area that you focus on when you’re consulting with people is how stories can impact teams. So if someone has not thought about their story, how can they consider doing something and what kind of impact could it have?


Well, I’ll give you an example. You know, I worked with a with a pretty big health insurance company that’s got offices all over the world. And they had just created a team engagement initiative, where they had sort of gone through like a rebrand. And they had the seven brand attributes or values that everyone, you know, sort of lives by essentially, in that organization. And they noticed that these weren’t really landing with their employees, employees didn’t quite know, how do we live by this? And what, how does this work. And that’s when, you know, we proposed a storytelling engagement, to kind of bring these attributes to life. But instead of going to the leaders and saying, you know, you came up with these, or the branding agency, you came up with these, let’s find stories that are going to bring this to life, according to you. Let’s go to the employees and ask for their stories. Because they’re the ones who are on the front lines, they’re the ones who are living this message, day to day, and they’re the ones who aren’t quite getting it. So that’s probably going to have an impact down the line on your customers as well. And so we went, and we asked them, you know, we created these, these events, were essentially getting back to your question, how did they sort of come up with their own stories while they had a framework? Right, so we had these seven attributes? You know, for example, one was we listened to our clients, always. Another one was we deliver wow moments. There’s a lot of companies that say things like that, but how do I know that you’re, what does that mean to you? And so we asked them to tell stories, from lived experiences with customers, you know, where they experienced that they experienced delivering a wow moment? And what does that mean to them? But the challenge was, because of our what happened camera, they couldn’t use those words, they couldn’t start the story out by saying, so I delivered a wow moments, no, no, you’re gonna have to tell me what happened. And then let me come up with a conclusion, come up with the, with the knowledge that oh, that’s what they mean, in terms of delivering wow moments, and the impact of having all of these employees come up with their own stories, while it was very empowering to them, and they felt like the company had given them a voice that they didn’t feel they had before, you know, we traveled in tiny little places all over the US. And, and people just weren’t used to it, they were just thankful that we were there asking for a story. But because we did it within this framework, it was easy to kind of see what that impact might be. And for them, the impact was that many people, we started making videos of these stories, and we distributed them on their internal channels. And those were the most commented on, you know, things that they had ever seen in terms of the engagement of it. And then other people started to put in their stories, even though they weren’t part of the program, right. So that’s the kind of impact is that you see this dialogue happening. And you see that it sort of spreads like wildfire, once one story gets out. Other people, it makes you think, of your own experience. And as a result, you want to share your own experience. Because even if there’s 10,000 stories about delivering wow moments, that’s great, because they’re each different. They each show a different aspect of what that means. So you can never do enough of it, essentially.


Yeah, what a great example. How did in that particular example? So they created videos of the shared stories? And then what did they do with them then? So how did they transfer that into where other people are participating?


Yeah, so yes, so that was the process, we started out by, you know, working in groups, a few hours each and, and by the end of that engagement, about a half a day, people had stories, they had created stories, and then we filmed those. And then there was a after that they distributed them on their, on their intranet, essentially, a kind of a YouTube channel, but just for the company. And they asked people to vote for their favorites, the ones that and not just like, you know, oh, I prefer this one because of the way he or she is dressed, you know, kind of thing. But really around certain criteria, you know, did it bring meaning to some of these attributes? What were some of these attributes, and then the best ones kind of made it to another, another tier, where those now we’re seeing internationally, they weren’t just seen nationally, and then they opened it up for comments on this on this kind of YouTube channel. And that’s where they had a system by which people could actually upload their own stories in response to that story. So they had created you know, the seven attributes, the stories so here’s the message, here are values here are the stories that represent These now what’s your story of representing that value? So essentially, those became models for others to emulate.


Very fun. I thank you for walking me through kind of like what that actually transpired into. That’s very, um, what is the? What is your story?


Huh? Well, which one? Do I have many stories? But well, you know, the one that I find myself telling these days is Well, part of it is, is what I was saying earlier this career switch. But, but that was, you know, that was back in 2003. And so, what I, what I tell these days is that I’m very big on employee engagement, as you know, we’ve been talking about this, and I sort of am intrigued by the ways that companies engage employees, and at what point is there an opportunity to engage employees in such a way that they’re going to feel that sense of belonging, they’re going to understand your culture, and they’re really going to perform really well for you. And to me, that’s the onboarding, you know, that that first week, that first month, that’s when you’ve got an opportunity to really engage people. And so the story that I find myself telling is this when I, when I came out of business school, I had a job in finance and, and I came up to this, and I was hired in a company in Hong Kong. And so I came up to the 15th floor of this building, beautiful glass building floor, overlooking the Hong Kong Harbor, you could see Mainland China in the background. And, and I started to go towards these, this open desk with the with the floor to ceiling windows, because they had told me that’s where my desk was going to be. And then someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, Oh, welcome to our bank. And I’m the HR director, and I said, Oh, well, I think I know where my desk is, is that where we’re gonna go? And she says, Well, that is where your desk is, but that’s not where we’re going. And so then we turned around, and the more I followed her, the darker had got. So there was less than less natural light until finally we got to a room, just a tiny room with just two chairs and one table. And she handed me two heavy binders, and said, Could you get through these in the next 48 hours. And so I did one was an employee handbook, and the other one was compliance. That’s what it said on it. And so I went through these, and it was about a week until I met another person who was even remotely relevant to my job and role. And then every six months, someone would walk into my boss’s office and say that they quit today, and they’d come out with these huge smiles on their faces. And my boss would inevitably say, well, that must be because others pay better, my hands are tied headquarters won’t give me more money. And then lo and behold, I was the one going into his office saying I quit. So that’s the story I tell these days, because there was an opportunity to engage me on a level where the stories, I didn’t hear any stories that first week, that first month. And the only reason I stayed more than six months, unlike others, is that I had someone within the company who was my guide, and that I was lucky enough to find. And he’s the one who told me the stories about Hong Kong, where to get your suit tailored, all the things where the best restaurants were not just about the office, but everything, all these cultures that I knew nothing about. So that’s where that’s where I go these days, because I’m kind of an advocate for people looking at their onboarding processes and engaging your employees at the outset. I can’t stress that enough. You’ve got such a great opportunity to do that.


Yeah. And coupled with your examples, I think that that’s a great Onboarding Tool as well. Jerome, fantastic, thank you for sharing both of your stories. Where is the best way for people to connect with you and find you?


Well, the best way is our website And is always a little tricky, because it has only one R and no E. So it’s not the traditional way to spell narrative. And we have a blog, where we post a lot of articles around these themes that that you and I have been talking about and other themes, which essentially take you through all the applications of storytelling. We also have a book called powered by storytelling by Marie Nossal, who’s the founder of narrative and my business partner, and that’s available wherever you find books on Amazon and other places. So I would say those are the two things that I would point people to


Fantastic. I will make sure I put a link to the book in our show notes as well because I’m going to put that in my Amazon cart as well. Awesome big drum. Thank you so much for joining us today and sharing the ins and outs Storytelling.


You’re so welcome. Thank you.


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