~ By Addison James
“Tell me a story.”
My Vice President said after we spent an hour with a member of the Board of Directors, scrutinizing nearly every digit in a ten page slide deck. Those digits were the result of a very large spreadsheet which I had created which showed our results for last fiscal year, business entity by business entity, and how we expected to perform next year. The numbers had our expectations for our numerous product lines, the ones that we expected to grow and the ones that were our cash cows. Also, the expectations of industries, of demographics, and of regional macro environments were in those numbers. And I had to put them in a package that the Vice Presidents, the C-Suite executives, and the Board of Directors, could understand.
My name is Addison James and I tell stories.
My author profile on GoodReads and Amazon mentions my women’s fiction and contemporary romantic comedy writing. However the storytelling that pays my mortgage does not have an ISBN. I work in high tech. I work with numbers. I work at a company where the majority of employees are software engineers who create products that gamers love. My job is working with data from finance and surveys, and creating spreadsheets that describe our financial performance and creating incentives for our employees. I create spreadsheets.
And I tell stories.
Like fiction writing, the business story needs to be engaging. It needs to pull in the listener so that they care about the outcome. It needs to have a personal perspective. It needs to appeal to emotions. How to do that with business writing? Business school students are familiar with a famous business school’s case study method. The case usually begins with a protagonist, usually an executive at a famous company, pondering a dilemma. The company is at a crossroads. A decision must be made. Do they branch out into home delivery? Should the product line stretch into lip gloss? Should operations be moved to China? What about labor laws in the Netherlands? Can the company afford to invest in a new technology at the cost of declining profits in the short term?
Storytelling isn’t just in the realm of writers. Storytelling is a part of life. It’s a form of communicating from Homerian epics to small tales of wonder. It can be the 140 characters on Twitter or a Facebook update. It can be the Great American Novel or the narration to a vacation slideshow on an iPhone. It can be the company proxy. It can be a 30 second commercial with a little boy who thinks he’s Darth Vadar. It can be a movie. It can be PowerPoint. It doesn’t have to be a book. The best commercials, the best case studies, the best Tweets all share a common thread. They all tell a story.
And so will my slide deck.