As The Story Goes…

As The Story Goes…

April 22, 2011

Once upon a time it was acceptable, even expected, to share research via data dumps dressed up in 200-slide PowerPoint presentations. Eye charts, really. People somehow believed no one would take them or their research seriously unless the data were presented in agonizing detail. This, in spite of knowing everyone in the room would need a nudge to wake them up once the data presentation was over.

The Epidemic of Antsy Executives

All was well and good until a highly contagious epidemic swept the land and many executives became gravely afflicted with ants in their pants. Cunning mobile devices sapped leaders’ resistance to distraction and accelerated the viral spread of this contagion. In this weakened state, execs could no longer sit through tedious, data-heavy presentations. They began to complain of drowning in data while starving for insights and to insist researchers translate data into insights that could actually drive business-growing strategies. And, even more, they came to expect researchers to communicate and socialize insights throughout their businesses to ensure appropriate strategic actions could be taken and investments in research could be leveraged more broadly.

Alas, this is much easier said than done. Some researchers just possess a natural gift for discerning insights and it’s not such a gigantic leap for others to learn how to do it. But, becoming better communicators of those insights can be altogether foreign. For many researchers—especially those that are more comfortable analyzing numbers than creating and making presentations—it’s a scramble to respond to this challenge.

Data Just Sits There. Stories Come Alive.

Every day at Brandtrust® we’re challenged with finding and sharing insights in engaging ways that truly impact our clients’ businesses. We believe our job isn’t complete until others fully understand and internalize the insights we uncover. Time and again, we’ve shown that crafting a narrative around insights is essential to sharing the new knowledge that arises from research. Deeper, richer insights—the ones that lead to competitive advantage—don’t always leap from the data and announce themselves. They have to be translated into the most essential form of human communication. They have to be expressed in story.

We know humans learn in story. It is how we internalize our life experience. All that we ever learn or know occurs through spoken and written narratives. The human mind is designed to store what it learns and access what it knows in sequence – one image, one idea and one phrase at a time – in the same way that a story unfolds one element at a time.

Mommy, Tell Me A Story

This is why we crave stories, why we like to read books, enjoy movies, and love jokes –they’re all stories. Most human communication occurs in narrative form. We can scarcely communicate without telling a story. It’s why “story” is one of the first words children learn. “Mommy, tell me a story. Daddy tell me about the time when…” Most of the greatest teachers throughout human history have shared a unique quality – when you ask them a question they don’t answer it – they tell you a story instead. Is this what makes them the greatest teachers or did they simply understand that we learn through narrative?

It’s no surprise, then, that several top clients familiar with Brandtrust®’s deep knowledge of how people learn and our unique narrative-based project deliverables asked if we could help them develop the same skills. They recognized better storytelling could help tremendously with their internal communication challenges and tapped our team to help them learn the art and science of great storytelling.

So Then What Happened?

We live to crack the code on pesky problems so we were thrilled to oblige. We responded by creating a storytelling seminar built around what goes into preparing and sharing a good story. The expectation is not that everyone who attends the seminar will suddenly acquire the skills of Shakespeare or become a stand-up comic. But we do see how understanding firsthand the nature and elements of a narrative arc and storytelling leads nearly everyone to dramatic changes in the way they share insights. And subsequently to dramatic improvements in how well insights are adopted and activated inside their companies.

Are you challenged by too much data and not enough of a narrative to help people make sense of it? Consider injecting storytelling into your presentations. Who knows? Maybe the way your story ends is that your execs are no longer so antsy during presentations and everyone can live happily ever after.

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