The business world is so keen on seriousness that almost all corporate communication, due to that unnatural need for formality, is void of any humanity and boring as hell. Businesses are primarily about people. If you want to communicate effectively with people, use human language.
A few years ago I gave training on visual storytelling to the analytics team of a listed company. The department was responsible for compiling financial reports about the various regions in which the company is active to provide management with insights.
The reporting of the financial figures until then had been presented in a standard way. Translation: an overabundance of tables and graphs full of numbers in boring lists of pure facts without an explanatory story.
The training, therefore, was about how to use visual storytelling to make financial reports more insightful for the management team. The team members actively participated in the training, there was much interaction and most importantly: the session had inspired the participants to come up with new ideas to make the reports more understandable.
Boring: The killer of understanding and insight
The participants used to cram reports full of data without further explaining what all those numbers mean. They were dry summaries of a wide range of financial numbers without explanation as to what the numbers indicated in real life for the business.
The biggest problem was that this type of reporting provided little information and was also excruciatingly dull to read. Death by PowerPoint was no match for these reports. Not surprising, the management team decided to provide training, so that the future reports would provide more insight to enable better decision making.
How storytelling converts raw data into usable information
One of the most important benefits of storytelling is the ability to translate data into insights. In other words, to make explicit what all these numbers mean instead of presenting it as a fact about a reality, without explaining what that reality is.
A growth figure of, for example, 8% can be good or bad. In itself, such a number has little value. In the context of a mature market, 8% growth may signal over achievement, while the same growth rate in an emerging, growth market may well signal underachievement. Insights like these enable managers to take appropriate actions.
Translating data into meaningful information is, therefore, the first step. The goal is to turn raw data into insights to make better decisions. However, sharing insight successfully doesn’t happen automatically, even if you have made the translation from raw data to information.
The next step is to present that information in such a way that the insight becomes evident to those whom you show it. The power of visual storytelling is that you can present that insight in a clear and fun way.
Storytelling is emotion
The new ideas that the department generated would make the reports more clear, create more impact and make it fun. With visual storytelling, they now had the means to transform raw data into information. They used humor, drama, metaphors, and visualizations to clarify concepts and create insights.
Telling stories automatically brings an emotional element with them, and that makes a story so memorable, insightful and fun. However, this is also what raises a potential issue within a corporate environment.
To tell a story humanly was so different from what the participants were accustomed to, that after the session they doubted to what extent they could actually incorporate their creative ideas into the reports without creating a shock effect internally. The new way of presenting was much more human and fun but was completely different from the dry, boring, ‘business’ style used before.
Get rid of the boring stuff
Businesses and emotions are not a typical pair. In businesses, emotions are to be eliminated entirely. You are supposed to be business minded, deprived of any emotion and fun does not seem to be allowed at all. Having fun is something you do in your own time is conventional thinking in businesses. Everything must be serious. Business and professionalism seem to be synonymous with boring because it is void from any emotion.
It is therefore not surprising that so many people experience little pleasure from work. At work, we are flooded with meetings, presentations, reports, etc., which are all so incredibly boring. Boring because they are deprived of all humanity by keeping them ‘serious,’ ‘business minded’ and ‘professional.’ No humor, no pictures, no drama, nothing human.
To be human means emotion by definition. Companies consist of people and companies exist to make it easier for people through services and products. When people are the company, why are we so frenetic to get rid of everything that has to do with basic humanity, like emotions? By being human, you can engage with other people.
Visual storytelling offers the possibility to make companies, reports, products etc. more human. Although storytelling is centuries old, it is new to companies. So what is new can sometimes feel scary. However, fear is a bad advisor. Storytelling is human and therefore very important to use if you want to get your message across. We have to go beyond that threshold of fear of new things — a fear that is entirely unfounded, especially if the alternative is dullness.
Organizations are so busy to remain primarily business that we have forgotten what really matters, namely: people. People means emotion by definition. People like stories, appealing visuals, humor, etc. Why is it so difficult to give business a touch of humanity and make it fun?
We are so accustomed to the fact that companies must be serious and businesslike in particular that the addition of human elements is suddenly uncomfortable. However, aren’t companies created just for people? Companies are run by people, for people. Get rid of the boring stuff and make it more human.
Images via Pixabay except the Joker.
The Joker & The Dark Knight are © Warner Bros.