Seize the power of the story
Who would guess that the most powerful tool in business is not data? Numbers can be informative and speak for themselves, but not everyone speaks the language. Those who can read charts and graphs may feel at home with data, but others search vainly for meaning in the maze.
Narratives, on the other hand, can unravel even the most complicated issues by guiding us through the tale of “What happened” and “Why” as it moves forward to “What’s being done” and “What’s likely to happen next.”
A good example can be found in the employee satisfaction surveys we’ve done over the past 10 years for an international company. The data section is usually more than 200 pages –– valuable input, but formidable to decipher. In order to uncover the gems hidden in the data, we create narratives that identify and examine the key issues generated by the research and offer observations and recommendations for action steps.
The narratives transform random insights into cohesive patterns. Meaning emerges.
Why are stories so effective? Stories convey the norms, values, attitudes and behaviors that define groups, drawing people together through common experiences. Narratives help focus diversity toward common conclusions and goals. Stories sort through complexities to illuminate both the big picture and the small sketches within.
Here’s a modern application of timeless idea: Stories stimulates change. Steve Denning, in his book Why Leadership Storytelling is Important, reminds us that “mind-numbing cascades of numbers or daze-inducing PowerPoint slides won’t achieve the goal (of change). Even logical arguments usually won’t do the trick.” His solution: Envision and tell the story of the future you want to create. Data will support your case, but stories will sell it.
Identify the audience. Who needs to truly understand the powerful findings illustrated by your data? For an employee satisfaction survey, it’s the managers and leadership team that will effect change. For marketing research, it’s potential customers. When you focus on the business objective of the data, the audience emerges.
Take the time to understand the meaning hidden in the data. What do the numbers mean? What changes are happening — or not happening? What needs to happen now? Answers to these questions lie in the data.
Simplify the story. Storytelling is best when it is uncomplicated. Clear points, infographics, and breakouts can highlight the most important elements of the data in a way that is easily communicated.
At Cindy Miller Communications, storytelling is our primary tool to help clients inform, instruct, persuade and innovate. We help you seize the power of narratives.