How to weave a powerful story into your cold data-intensive reports

Stories are an important part of any presentation, specially the ones that are loaded with cold facts.

Good stories can overcome less than stellar visuals or an average format or content shall you fail to deliver your best on these fronts.  A strong narrative will help your audience pay attention to your message and recall it a later time, much more efficiently than any bells and whistles that your presentation software can display.

Due to their sequential nature stories make it easy for your audience to follow you. They can also help you get the most out of available time by illustrating your message quickly.

Consider that also stories will engage your audience much more than facts alone. Facts can very well stimulate your mind, but a story is a vessel by which your passion will travel to the heart of your audience, and galvanize them into action!

Why analysts face challenges creating stories

For some reasons, ones more intuitive than others; analysts face consistent challenges to come up with stories that can communicate their insights and findings in a compelling way. They fall short to reap all the benefits that this medium offers to presenters and the audiences alike. 

Storytelling is an art form that many analysts find difficult and almost impossible to master at the worst.

This situation shouldn’t be the case since analysts are inherently creative individuals. They analyze data to come up with creative solutions to problems, sometimes with several layers of constraints. You can see this is the fantastic visualizations that sometimes accompany analytics reports. Think about the sophisticated dashboards designed to effectively monitor brand’s Key Performance Indicators; very creative (and smart!) data-driven people work on those projects. 

So why is it that stories are so elusive to data types? The reason I have found over and over gain in the cornucopia of analytics reports I have witnessed or taken part of is that the over-reliance in creating a very sound logical argument has left the presenter with little time to weave a well-crafted story into their data.

To craft a great story that will hit the mark and attain all the benefits we are seeking from their use, will take some time and structure. A story is a sequential narrative of events that is typically organized into three parts: the setting, the conflict, and the resolution.

I like the way in which Cole Nussbaumer, a former analyst, author, and speaker describes the concept of storytelling with data. The setting will define for the audience a balance that has been upended by the arrival of antagonist forces (the conflict). From this struggle, the principal character as your product or idea will emerge transformed and triumphant.

This juncture is the point in which most analysts face the biggest hurdle: How to create a story from all the data I have to report on? The first step is to define what is the main message you want to convey. You have probably thought about this already, so then you have to proceed to bring it to life with a story.

It’s here that I’d like you to think that data is, in essence, an aggregation of stories. Your job is to choose the stories within your data, that best illustrate your points.

How to bring your brand's story to life

Here some action steps to get your ideas flowing.

1)    Seek within your data. What story within your data can move your audience towards your recommendations?

2)    Define the characters.

Who or what is driving the action? Is it your product, or perhaps your customers?

Who or what is throwing off the original balance.

If you are presenting to management how your product is positioned in a complex and competitive marketplace, then you ought to think about the actions that you will recommend to overcome these antagonist forces. In this case, the adversary forces can be other established competitors or perhaps new entrants.

3)    Describe the actions that they have taken to throw off the initial balance. This description will be the setting of the story.

4)    Follow by the actions that need to be made by your company or brand's management team to restore that balance leading and result in the resolution. 

5)    Wrap up the story by giving the audience a clear directive of what needs to be done and the outcomes expected after those actions.

Can you imagine now the story in your own context?

Remember that stories are powerful vehicles that can spark action and transmit knowledge and organizational values in an efficient and compelling way.

In the same way that you might think that the weight of your data-intensive presentation will fall on the shoulders of a robust analysis; a skillfully crafted story can do what facts alone can’t. They will rouse your audience’s emotions and lead them to the place where you want them to be. 

Until the next time, good storytelling to all!

~Lorraine

Want to present like a pro? Let’s talk. I have taught over 1,000 individuals and professionals how to overcome their apprehension to communicate with the Board, fellow colleagues, with technical or general audiences. Currently at Columbia. You can reach me at hello@corespeechcommunications.com