Storytelling: A much needed skill
“Every month, I send an analytics report to senior management. What is disheartening is that not once have they asked me what the numbers mean. They never show any interest.”
This past week I gave a presentation on strategic workforce planning and analytics in an online webinar.
The quote was from one of the participants who was expressing her frustration with her deliverables. She was asking why nobody is taking her work and role seriously.
I turned the question around and said, “Did you ask them that question?” The answer was basically NO.
A thing of beauty with no meaning
As she was talking, I was reminded of a friend of mine who would put all of his reports into Excel. He literally would spend hours crafting a spreadsheet – color-coded, hidden columns, different fonts, and background.
One of his colleagues told me that in meetings, he could not wait to pass out his creations. However, all everyone else wanted to know was the totals and solutions. That was it.
He would spend hours working on the spreadsheet, but only a couple of lines had the solution or insight.
I hired a gardener for my house in Saudi Arabia. The problem was that he spoke no English, and I spoke no Arabic. We stood there trying to communicate, but we were just not getting across to each other.
The next day, as I was with the gardener, I looked down the street, and there was another friend of mine who I know speaks both English and Arabic. Well, problem solved.
I had my friend help translate, and I was able to work with the gardener and discuss a layout, what plants I wanted, color schemes, and other issues. Just like that, the garden was taking shape. I could not interpret, but I got someone to build the narrative around what I wanted.
Once upon a time
I read a book years ago called Tell to Win by Peter Guber. I tell everyone that of all the books I have ever read, that one is my No. 1 favorite.
In this book, Guber talks about his passionate belief in the power of narrative. Facts and statistics are great, but humans are creatures of narrative. We love the story, as in 'Once upon a time…
I use this technique when I give speeches. I build a narrative around my topic and tell the story. That is my hook because the story draws them in, and that narrative leads to my topic. Throughout the presentation, I refer back to that story as reference points.
What does it mean?
That was what I told the participant who was upset that no one asked questions about the metrics. It was about what was missing. She had not told the story; she did not develop the narrative.
What her audience was looking for was the interpreter to bring those numbers or data to life. Sometimes we become so enamored with the deliverable that we lose sight of the larger story. We focus too much on the spreadsheet, the PowerPoint slide, or the beautiful report.
I make it a point that if I use a slide, I will NEVER read it. I know what is coming up, glance at it, and build a theme or concept around the content. That is why you should never have a slide that is busy with graphics, too many bullets points, or too much clutter. Are you building a report or interpret every little bit of it for the audience?
Interpret, don’t just present
Someone came into my office this morning and asked if I could help a young person with public speaking. My answer was that I would be more than glad to help her out.
If you are young and just starting your career, you must master this skill, and your goal is to become good at it. Never be afraid of the microphone. However, always remember that you are the interpreter, not the presenter. You are to interpret all your slides to your audience, whether one-on-one, in a conference room, or on the big stage. You are the interpreter!
The magic happens when you take facts and figures, features and benefits, spreadsheets and PowerPoints — “relatively soulless information,” as some call it — and embed them into the telling of a purposeful story. Your “tell” renders an experience to your audience, making the information inside the story memorable, resonant, and actionable.
Making it relevant
One of the key points in any finding is making it relevant. We can never assume that your audience will get it because the vast majority of the time, they will not. It is paramount that we make it come to life.
Slides on the screen can make it pop! A report handed out makes it a story. So, elaborate on the spreadsheet and help the audience connect the dots.
You simply must be more relevant. The days of sending it over and letting someone else have to work to interpret the information are over.
Remember, always: “If you can tell it, you can’t sell it.”
Ron Thomas is Managing Director, StrategyFocused Group DWC-LLC, based in Dubai.
He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf countries, also based in Dubai. A former CHRO who was based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Ron is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute [hci.org ] covering the MENA region. He...