by Jill Heinze, Virginia Chapter, CI Division
From my vantage point as a research analyst, I see novel-worthy tales play out daily in the form of mergers, lobbying, new product launches, bankruptcies, client wins and losses, and on and on. With all of the drama unfolding in the marketplace, how proficient are we at capturing that dynamism in our presentations and reports? If you’re like me, you could probably stand to become a better storyteller. Even more, if you listen to some observers, you have to become a respectable storyteller to be future-ready.
In his book A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink asserts, “When facts become so widely available and instantly accessible, each one becomes less valuable. What begins to matter is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact.” Skeptical? Consider the success of Freakonomics¸ the book that transformed a collection of dry statistics into possible explanations for how society works and become a bestseller.
When weaving your tales, try emulating what I consider to be the traits of a good storyteller:
Creates well-developed characters.
A talented storyteller knows the history of her characters, their emotional and physical make up, what motivates them, and how they will grow and evolve. Similarly, a business info pro could enhance research by communicating the back story and drivers influencing “characters” like companies, executives, politicians, and products, and include suggestions about how those characters could change or act in the future given certain market conditions.
Says enough, but not too much.
There are few things more tedious than reading a story that leaves nothing to the imagination. While I don’t suggest leaving out key details or making too many assumptions, I do recommend considering how you can say more with less. Sometimes a single descriptive adjective, a clear graph, or a powerful image can get the point across and even improve the audience’s retention.
Constructs a plot.
Stories have a beginning, middle, and end. If you feel you’re assembling a collection of facts but losing the point in the mix, step back and see how you can reorganize the information so that it has a logical, compelling progression and reinforces your main conclusions.
Displays unique insight.
The best authors examine everyday occurrences in a new light and discover something profound. Maybe you’re no Shakespeare, but sometimes it’s those little nuggets that are commonly overlooked that can add large amounts of value to your deliverables. Try looking for themes, outliers, contradictions, trends and anomalies to deepen your clients’ understanding of a topic.
A note of caution: Unlike fiction writers, info pros need to tell stories responsibly. If you exaggerate too much for dramatic effect, you could sacrifice your credibility and, even worse, support bad decision-making.
To get going on your page-turners, check out some of the suggestions in Pink’s book and start small. In my case, I’m making a concerted effort to use graphics to convey my meaning and ensuring that each of my PowerPoint slides paints a verbal and visual picture. The future-readiness of PowerPoint is, well, another story.
Jill Stover Heinze is a librarian, marketing research analyst, active member of SLA’s Competitive Intelligence Division (CID) and Virginia Chapter, and a proud member of her profession. She earned her M.S.L.S. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has worked in academic and business environments and is an invited presenter on library marketing topics. She is currently serving the CID as blog editor and is participating in the division’s annual conference planning.