On Storytelling: Weave a Yarn That Sticks

public relations message developmentLike all parents, my husband and I spend a lot of time educating our daughter. Fostering a global perspective, particularly on economics—really abstract concepts for a kid—can be one of the toughest lessons to master.

A few years back, we stumbled across If the World Were a Village, a book that made our job so much easier. My daughter was immediately drawn to the colorful illustrations. We were relieved that instead of regurgitating facts about incomprehensible percentages of land, language, wealth, or population, it relates statistics to people she could easily imagine.

Stories are powerful. I encourage Intesa clients to use them every day. They make data relevant and give context to corporate reporting.

Science backs me up on this (whew!). In short, stories “put your whole brain to work” while PowerPoint slides filled with bullet points can lull your audience to sleep. And while I love words, a good visual story is tough to beat. I recall more about how diets stack up around the world from this slideshow than I would from a two-page spreadsheet listing country/budget/menu. Infographics, too, are a feast for the mind.

I’ve spent a big part of my career working with scientists and engineers, people who live and die by the data. But as I always remind them, both Congress and corporate leaders are more likely to fund science that constituents and stakeholders understand.

For example, rather than just telling me how much power a technology will save in kilowatt-hours, I want to know how many additional families can light their rooms or power their computers. For corporations, I long for richer annual reports that demonstrate how employees solved a particular problem and who it benefits. I want to equate the number of employee volunteer hours to a student whose grades improved as a result.

It’s easy to focus on the numbers and facts because they are important. Reporters love a good data point, but the best ones also look for the story—that one family that represents a statistic—because they know what it takes to create a connection the audience will remember.


  1. says

    Agreed – I’ve worked with scientists as well. The good ones want their work to get out in the world and are open to new ideas. I’ve tried to stress the benefit of their work, i.e. “what’s in it for me?” Rather than focusing on geeky trivia, I’ve focused on the real-world impact of science. For example, how dual-pol radar provides better forecasts. People aren’t interested in the tech but want to know how it impacts them.

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