Storytelling – How to successfully connect with people

I just finished an interesting book by Scott Taylor, Telling your Data Story. The book blends Storytelling and data management. An unlikely mix, but one that makes a potentially dry topic like data management come across better. This book made me want to further discuss Storytelling. In this article, I will be defining Storytelling, giving some use cases and I will also be giving you three tips to improve your Storytelling. 

Definition and origins 

Storytelling is a social and cultural activity that allows people to orally share stories. This practice has been around forever and is still relevant today. Throughout history, stories such as astrology, mythology, and fairy tales are often the ones remembered. Each of these are examples of storytelling. Many cultures have also used it to share their habits and traditions. 

Enough for the small history crash course. Today, storytelling is still used because of its impact. Humans are always attracted to a good story, whether it’s a book, a movie or a story a colleague tells you at the coffee machine. A good story always manages to attract our attention and we know today that attention is worth a lot. 

Applications of Storytelling 

There are many ways to apply Storytelling, I will present you three of them: 

  • Selling or presenting a project or an idea 
  • Your personal or professional presentation 
  • Data Storytelling 

First of all, you can use stories to sell a project or an idea in a professional context. Scott presents it well in his book, data quality and governance is a topic that can be hard to sell and get attention for. However, by tying data issues to the company’s vision, mission, and goals, you will get more attention from your company’s executives. Also, if your project or idea is complex, stories can help make the topic more comprehensible to your audience. Ultimately, the idea behind this application is to appeal to people’s hearts rather than their minds. When you hear a story, your other senses are in action and so is your imagination. Your audience is more likely to listen to you and remember your arguments. 

Then you can also use stories in your personal presentation or even in an interview. In my personal blog (In French), I talked about career documentation, so you can take the boring bullets and make them more engaging with a story. Don’t hesitate to tell what’s up around your successes and accomplishments such as the context of the company (the scene) and the people who were with you (the characters). Also, you can prepare a one-minute elevator pitch to introduce yourself. Often interviews start with tell me about yourself, it‘s a good way to answer the question and grasp your audience’s attention quickly. 

The last application is closer to my area of expertise, Data Storytelling. This time it’s about using data to tell a story. The same principle applies here, it is much more interesting to tell a story rather than just show a data analysis or a dashboard. The world of analytics and numbers is often more pragmatic and it is through stories that your analysis can distinguish itself. To tell a good story with your data you will need your data, visuals, and a narrative to capture and hold the attention of your audience. Finally, don’t forget that to make a good story with your data you will need a call to action at the end whether it is to demonstrate to your boss to invest in a new market or to demonstrate a particular risk. 

Three tips to improve your Storytelling 

I’d like to end this article by giving you three tips to improve your storytelling skills that you can use right away. 

The first tip is to adapt to your audience. It’s important to know the people you’re interacting with well so that you use a language they will relate to. If you are a technical individual talking to a non-technical individual, use analogies to explain the work to be done. Furthermore, make your analogy related to the business sector your company is in. A good way to annoy and lose people’s attention is to use terms they don’t understand. 

The second tip is to make sure that your story allows your audience to answer the famous What’s in it for me? By telling your story, your audience should feel engaged and it should be obvious to them the benefit they are going to get from your data analysis, your skillset (if you are interviewing), or the project or idea you are trying to promote. The story is there to keep your audience interested, but remember that you want an action to be taken. 

The third tip is to be entertaining and interesting. I’m not talking about fooling around or trying to be funny, being engaging can be simple. Playing with the intonation of your voice, variation between more, or less loud sentences can contribute to keeping the attention of the audience. If you always keep the same tone of voice, it can quickly become boring. 

I hope this article will make you want to integrate Storytelling into your work or personal life. 

Gabriel Guimond-Prevost – Data Architect

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