“Storytelling is fine, but if I’m a management auditor, I’m asked for figures, I’m not asked to tell stories!” In management control, actuarial work, finances, market studies, etc., financial experts are often dubious when it comes to narration techniques. However, if we think about it, we all know people who present their figures differently than others and who have more impact doing it; how do they do it?
The mistake is considering that because there are more numbers, it must be serious and so Storytelling doesn’t apply. Numbers are just one layer of abstraction to understanding and deciding on an issue. They are a first effort in transforming complex issues and situations into analytical tools that simplify reality. The next step is to get rid of the complexity of the numbers and the tools so as to convey what they are teaching us, to share what happened or to apprise what remains to be done.
The subject of protecting the environment is a complex one, at the crossroads of a lot of different expertise. And yet, you just need to listen to Greta Thunberg to realize that an eminently serious topic can be told in a simple and impactful way. Anything to get people mobilized is a complex and serious subject, whether it’s about numbers or not.
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As we have seen, including figures is only part of the job. What is complicated is making them talk! Limiting yourself just to numbers will give you the posture of the expert or good student that will provide no added value. On the contrary, the numbers give you a power that can put at the service of those listening to you. Still, it is important to be clear about what they expect from you and about the expectations that you will satisfy with your results. You will not reach your goal the same way if you are in front of an expert audience, novices or a potentially hostile person.
…Then tell them a story!
Now that you know your audience and your key message, it’s time to build your story. You understand that building a story is something serious. It’s not about saying anything or beautifying reality. Telling a story allows, on the contrary, to talk about the reality as it is while making it understandable and acceptable. The speaker then gains the freedom to say everything. There are proven narrative structures, and it is important to develop the reflex to express oneself at the level of one’s experience being concrete, so that your audience, novice as well as expert, can identify with your remarks. The more you stay in the conceptual, the more you will require a very high level of concentration to be listened to, and the more you will lose the attention of your audience.
Simplify your audience’s life and your own; tell stories. You will see, the human brain loves it!