Data Storytelling

The Importance of C-Suite Storytelling

March 4, 2020by Jeane Kropp

Once upon a time …

When you hear those four words, you tend to think of stories. From lullabies, fairy tales and cartoons to books, movies, videos and social media, we as humans are wired to engage with stories. But when was the last time you used a story to present insights?

We usually don’t equate insight- or data-centric presentations with storytelling. However, stories are a powerful way of communicating dense and numbers-forward information.

Most presentations to the C-suite are filled to the brim with charts, data and trend lines. Teams often feel they are doing their duty by presenting all the “interesting” findings to ensure that the executives are fully informed. But the findings frequently fall on deaf ears.

The Economist Intelligence Unit found that at best, data is only used by executives when making decisions four out of every 10 times! CMOs in particular feel there is “so much data, but no insights.”

The crux of the matter is this: How do you convey insights in a more impactful manner to a busy C-suite that has a limited attention span? The answer: data storytelling.

Follow these key points to craft an expert data story that’s sure to engage the C-suite:

Know your audience

  • Understand the individuals who will be attending and how your insights affect their world. Why should they care about what you are saying? What’s in it for them? Think about what you would need to know if you were in their situation. Then toss out the data that’s not relevant.

Create a storyline

  • Overall, a story is a character in pursuit of a goal in the face of a challenge. A good story has an initial set-up, strong characters, a conflict and a resolution. So, start with a bold statement and key insight, focus on the key character (e.g., a product line, target audience or the company itself), discuss the challenge the insight presents and end with a recommendation to confront the challenge (the potential “happily ever after”).

Focus your story

  • What is the primary point you want to make with the data you have? The C-suite is bombarded with information on a daily basis, so it’s vital to keep yours simple and focused on one plot. Triage your data and move additional insights to an appendix if needed.

Instill emotion

  • People may listen to statistics, but they feel stories. Science has shown that the emotional side of our brain causes action, while the logical side makes sense of it at a later time. Data should be used as proof points for the story you are creating; however, the story should incorporate emotion. Does your story present them with unearthed opportunities that get them excited to pursue new products or services? Or is it confronting them with hard truths that may make them wary or fearful? A meaningful data story will fail to inspire emotion unless it’s complemented with powerful words — written or spoken in conjunction with the data.

Get personal

  • Convey your story through the use of analogies, metaphors or real-life scenarios. By providing an anecdote of your own personal experiences or other brands’ experiences related to your plot, you help bring the data to life and provide a larger context for your audience. Plus, it makes the story more entertaining and experiential.

So the next time you have a presentation to the C-suite, make sure to harness the powerful attributes of a simple, well-told story.

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