The Narrative Imperative

We live in an era of data ubiquity. Data is the fuel of our digital economy and every business is configured to harness its power. The technology sales team is armed with a wealth of conversion rate data. The wealth manager is equipped with analytic insights on net profit margin. The medical affairs team possesses a treasure trove of new clinical findings. Very different industries, disparate subject matter, and yet they share a common challenge: the need to bring data to life through storytelling. 

This narrative imperative is the core communications challenge of our time. The more complex the data, the more important stories become. Yet the obstacles to effective storytelling can be tough to overcome. Connection and engagement have never been more elusive. Differentiation and branding are harder to achieve in today’s crowded marketplace. Memorability requires messages that cut through the clutter of information overload. If stories are the communal currency of humanity, why do so many businesses feel bankrupt?

By harnessing the power of storytelling, businesses can create meaningful connections that inspire action.

Several best-selling books and widely viewed Ted Talks tell us that humans are storytelling animals and that we all think in story form. So why is it that communicating through stories, particularly stories from data, remains such a difficult skill – even at a moment when data scientists have never been better equipped and more proficient at turning data into insights?

There are 3 main obstacles to potent stories:

  • Lack of listener-focus in the way that stories are conceived. 
  • An inability to find and communicate the soul of the data – meaning the elements of the data that will elicit an emotional response. 
  • The need to improve as storytellers –  because the impact of a story depends on the teller’s ability to influence. 

The good news is that high-impact storytelling can be learned. No matter the industry or the nature of the data, the skills and techniques that bring stories to life can be developed and improved through training and coaching. Patterns, trends, correlations, and insights become agents of impact when you tailor them to the knowledge level, pain points, and passions of your listeners. The endgame is more than a narrative: the goal is narrative resonance.

Narratives with the greatest resonance stoke an emotional response. Brene Brown has observed that a story is just data with a soul. The soul of the data is where facts, figures, and statistics come to life and become emotive. Find the soul of your data, craft a narrative that resonates with your audiences, and practice behaviors that make you an influential communicator – that’s the recipe for storytelling success.

At Decker, so much of the storytelling work that we do centers on data: making the complex simple, highlighting the unexpected, turning jargon-laden abstraction into concrete and credible metaphors. Using the tools of rhetoric, we help clients transform data into words and phrases that have an irresistible allure. As author Dan Pink has observed, “A picture is worth a thousand words, but the right metaphor is worth a thousand pictures.” 

Any business that wants to improve results needs to improve their storytelling. And the narrative imperative will only become more pervasive in the era of generative AI. The volume of data and storytelling tools will continue to proliferate. Yet the usefulness of any tool is ultimately determined by training and practice. Now is the time to double down on investments in storytelling training. Stories are the fuel for growth. Make sure your storytelling engine purrs.

Leave a Reply
blog post