Creating the right story

Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo [Public domain or Public domain] – The Storyteller, via Wikimedia Commons

Crafting a story from your data can be daunting. Crafting a story that your audience will find compelling is even more daunting. And trying to find a way to do that with market research information, in a way that both answers your stakeholders’ needs while also sharing the information they need to hear…well, that can just take the cake in dauntingness! Here are some ideas we can learn from storytellers about how to create a story that will resonate with your audience.

What are you trying to say?

This can be the most tricky part of the whole process of storytelling. When it comes to creating a good questionnaire, I often go back to trying to identify that one burning question that you want to answer. However, when it comes to creating a good story, you now need to reframe that as what is the one takeaway or action you want your audience to remember? Here are some examples:

  • Question was: how satisfied are our customers with our products? Takeaway action: customers really need one particular enhancement to the product for them to be more satisfied.
  • Question was: what are the key items that we can do to improve our customer service? Takeaway action: customer service is fine, but the catalog of products has a clunky user interface that needs an overhaul.
  • Question was: what should we focus on for Q4 to make our workplace even better? Takeaway: address the fact that employees are worried about reports they’re hearing about the industry being at risk for major losses, as opposed to anything being wrong with their work environment at your company.

You’ll notice how in each of these examples, the takeaway action is not necessarily answering the original question, but is a key finding that your stakeholders want (or need) to hear.

What is your stakeholders’ agenda?

Every stakeholder has their own agenda that you need to acknowledge as you are working on the story you’re trying to tell. These include prior biases, preconceptions, and expectations of what the data is going to tell them. I once worked on a project for an individual who was an inventor seeking a market for a product. The research unveiled things that this individual needed to address in order to enter into any market, but my team and I failed to address the individual’s emotional attachment to the product and his expectation that we would be delivering a full market strategy for the product. Instead, we delivered a whole collection of data in a report that basically said there was no market for the product. You can imagine how well the stakeholder listened to that report! Had we instead given ideas on how to improve the product for entry into any given market, and crafted a story of how the barriers could be broken down, our research may have landed better.

Make it personal

When was the last time you listened to a moving story that was completely devoid of emotion, or that you didn’t feel connected to in some way? Creating stories from data involves finding how to harness the emotional aspect. I’m not suggesting you find a way to get your audience to cry when they listen to your story, but, rather, find a way to help your stakeholders connect to the information you’re delivering. For example, for the first scenario listed above, instead of just presenting a report that indicates what the baseline satisfaction level was and the key feature that needs to be addressed to increase that level of satisfaction, what about asking an emotionally compelling question such as, “What if we were able to take customer satisfaction to the next level and really delight our customers?” That may land better than, “In order to increase customer satisfaction by 10%…”

Watch good storytellers

TED talks are some of my favorite videos to watch for this reason: so many of the presenters find a way to deliver data in a story format that leaves the viewer feeling excited, inspired, and motivated to action. The videos that go viral often are the videos where the presenters have created a way for the audience to connect, whether by addressing preconceived notions or presenting personal stories. They are examples of how a researcher can present data as a story that is remembered and that leaves an audience willing to act.