Don’t deliver data – tell stories.

What do pharmaceutical chemists, and customer and market insight teams have in common? They both have to turn research, data and recommendations into something that grabs the attention and inspires a response from senior management. It is a challenge. There’s no doubt being hot on your story principles really helps with this one and recently I’ve trained in both sectors with teams from an international pharma company, and the Worldwide Insights team for HP Packard. Although their disciplines were very different, their particular challenge was exactly the same – letting go of the detail.

Here is the mantra – a story is effortless to consume and easy to pass on. This is what we are working to towards to make sure our communication will be listened to and passed on. Any extra detail makes it harder for an audience to consume and pretty much impossible to pass on – but that doesn’t stop us trying to squeeze it in when we really care about it.

For both sets of attendees the most powerful exercise of the day was the ‘movie trailer’ version of their story. It is so brutal but it really works. A movie trailer never gives you the whole story – a movie trailer almost always tells you; the main character, the ‘world’ they inhabit and the jeopardy i.e. What is the danger?, What is at stake? What will be overcome? (The next time you are at the cinema check my theory). From this we judge whether we will commit to the whole story. So for this exercise attendees had to explain their story to their partner in just a couple of minutes using these story elements. They had to imagine their partner was someone who knew nothing about the industry – maybe someone at a dinner party. Their stories included ‘the benefit of further funding for research into a new drug’, ‘the findings of research into the daily life of customers and their interaction with digital devices’, and ‘the dwindling business of printing and how to reverse it’.

Don’t tell anyone but the secret bit of this exercise is that it puts people back in their strongest storytelling zone – facing an audience one-to-one and that is the brain turbo-boost that help get them to the heart of what matters to the audience.

I partnered with one of the Pharma attendees and in 2 minutes I completely understood the new drug and why it mattered. They had been trying to explain it to me for the last 2 hours as a group but I couldn’t get it.

So if you have piles of carefully collected data and findings don’t ruin all that effort by passing them on raw or even half pasturised, instead put in the extra mile to craft your story. If you don’t want to go the whole movie trailer route it will still make a huge difference finding someone you can speak your short version to. At the BBC we called them ‘story buddies’ – someone who could tell you if you were not making sense, or were going on too much or were too dull. Critically someone you could sit in a one-to-one situation with, so accessing all your best story telling skills. This way you will create something crafted to your audience’s needs, making it effortless for them to consume and easy to pass on. Then your data will travel.

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