Using storytelling to focus on why, not what

Gathering and analysing data in search for trends and patterns that will provide a deep understanding of what is happening in relation to a market or product or service is naturally at the heart of every insight project. However transforming that data into something that is engaging, enlightening and capable of sparking discussion, new thinking and a change of direction is more important than ever. Why?

For anyone other than insight professionals, data can be flat, uninspiring and hard to make sense of. In order for stakeholders to understand the ramifications and potential impact of the data that has been gathered, you need to harness the skills of the storyteller to ensure that your audience can easily digest, interpret and make use of the findings.

To make data more explainable and memorable you need to put the spotlight on the data ‘heroes’, use suspense and plot twists to maintain interest, and reveal key findings in a carefully choreographed sequence before unveiling conclusions in a grand finale.

Yes, storytelling has been part of the insight professional’s arsenal for as long as I can remember but its importance should not be underestimated at a time when we are deluged with data at every turn, have limited attention spans and are increasingly time poor.

It’s for this reason that standard reportage of research results is frequently replaced by a storytelling approach because it starts with the ‘why’, not the ‘what’. It’s a far more succinct and appropriate conclusion to any research project that enables everyone to analyse the results and to share learnings more readily.

Not everyone is able to interpret raw data, so it’s the job of insight professionals to do this on their behalf. We clearly need to approach every research project with a different mindset from the outset but it’s something that, as an industry, we have the skills to do.

This is why businesses that are investing in bespoke projects that could inform the future direction of their organisations are keen to work with senior teams that understand their aims, goals and ambitions. They expect to obtain actionable insights from a carefully crafted and tailored programme. More importantly, they require their trusted advisors to use their expertise and experience to weave research findings into a powerful story that everyone can take on board, whether they are on the board or on the frontline. They need us to get the data off the spreadsheet and into the hearts and minds of every employee so that it can drive change.

What are the essential Dos and Don’ts that storytellers should keep top of mind?


  • Sketch out your story ideas first: Create a story board to get the basic structure and themes right before you start fleshing out the plot. This will ensure that the story builds and there is no unnecessary repetition.
  • Ensure your story is easy to follow – with hypotheses that can be proved or disproved with the facts – so that if someone comes back to it at a later date, they understand the key learnings straightaway.
  • Take inspiration from stories that you love and what draws you in: Familiar structures and themes can help to take your audience on a journey that they can easily identify with. This also includes using great visualisations to illustrate key points!
  • Set your story in the wider world, not just the narrow focus of your insight project: Referencing real world, tangible examples or similar scenarios will improve overall understanding of the themes and issues you are trying to explain. Use the widest data points available (past research, CRM data, published reports, as well as your current data points), to amplify your storyline so that everyone can make sense of the insights you are sharing.


  • Stick to the script: Whether you are presenting your findings to a live audience, via a webinar or by any other means, don’t fall into the trap of simply listing facts and figures. Starting at point A and ending at fact Z will quickly lose your audience’s attention. Be a pundit instead, shaping your commentary to paint the overall picture, and illustrate themes or prove your hypotheses with hard data.
  • Overload your audience, particularly at the start: Too many characters and subplots introduced in one hit are too hard to take on board, let alone follow, and will distract from the core message that you want to share. Remember – more detailed, supporting data will be available for those who want to see it.
  • Be overshadowed by your presentation slides: Your client has bought your knowledge and expertise, not just the raw data, a series of reports and tables. You are the storyteller, bring the magic of the results alive with your ability to translate the data into something more memorable.
  • Don’t use jargon: This is easy to say but it’s so frequently done. Try to avoid it at all costs.

Above all, remember the ‘so what’ test. Only include facts, figures or analysis that enhance and maximise the impact of the story you are sharing. If this is not the case, leave it out.

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