From Data to Narrative: Turning Boring Business Information into Compelling Stories


From Data to Narrative: Turning Boring Business Information into Compelling Stories

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Certain words receive more than their “15 minutes of fame,” and Storytelling is one of them we hear a lot. It has become a popular buzzword in the corporate space with a meaning that often rests in the head of the beholder.

Over the past decade, we have learned that most of our clients don’t truly mean “storytelling” in the traditional sense when they use the word.  They aren’t looking for the story-arcs that authors use to organize their books… and they don’t mean folk-based oral histories. What they are really looking for is a way to get their people to stop just dumping data and/or information when they communicate – and instead, talk about issues in ways that are more relatable and connectable for their audiences.

When pushed, they’ll say things like “My people have to stop talking only about themselves or just throwing out facts about us.  I want them to be able to engage people when they present.  They need to be able to tell a story!”  Sound familiar?

Or, from a more positive place, “… the other day one of my guys started giving an example of how we helped a client with a similar problem last summer – it was great to see the way that kind of storytelling really lit up the people we were presenting to.”  It’s really just a jazzy way of saying, “I want to become a more engaging speaker” – exactly what we at Speakeasy help people with day in and day out.


The great thing about stories is they connect with your listeners. The connections are with people, objects, and/or actions in your story, and every one of you have stories. They are experiences, events, happenings that you lived through, observed, heard about or read.

Most stories we tell are about us, not others, not our listeners… and there’s the key. Stories have to be about your listeners world, not yours.  There are thousands of themes to choose from. The key is to choose themes that are relevant to your listeners. The better you know your listeners; the better connections you can foster with the theme(s) you choose.

All stories have themes. Themes are the subjects or topics covered by the story. They can also be the called the narrative flow. It connects a series of events, words or sentences into a meaningful whole – unified into a motif, image or idea.

Most stories have many, or multiple themes. You can focus your listeners on a particular theme with your delivery, i.e. emphasis on certain words, phrases or sentences. Great stories, delivered badly, are bad stories and people will shut off, or just listen with that stiff smile as they look at their watches. Mediocre stories delivered very well can keep them engaged. Great stories, delivered greatly – change people’s minds, emotions, and actions.

A few things to remember:

Feature-based discussions rarely make good “storytelling.“ Benefit-based discussion can.

Anecdotal stories – with morals that make your message more impactful are great ways of delivering what we call a “conformational” opening that emphasizes a need your message fills… rather than the easier direct confirmation.

On answering the questions raised by a good message in your body content it’s often important to provide proof, or an example, as a supporting point to your answer.  Delivering that by telling stories of past application or benefit in similar circumstances is a great way to make something more real for a listener.

If you use an anecdotal story as part of an opening – retouching the supportive moral of that story at your close can be a very strong reminder of the value you’re offering.

Next time you are in a meeting and hear the “storytelling” buzzword come up as strategy for better sales or motivating a team, work to better define what it is the team is really looking for. And once you’ve clarified that… focus on a story that relates to both your listeners world and the idea or concept – not the just the data – that you’re there to promote.

At Speakeasy, we’ve been helping people move from information dumping to more compelling messages, or “storytelling”, based on the key lessons their data delivers. We’re eager to connect with you and your team to get you equipped to share your messages in a more powerful way through effective communication skills.