How Storytelling Can Make Your Financial Reports More Compelling

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Thursday, January 27, 2022

By building a narrative around what you have to say, you can make traditionally boring finance reports engaging for stakeholders and executives.

Article 5 Minutes
How Storytelling Can Make Your Financial Reports More Compelling

It's fair to say compiling and reading annual financial reports isn’t the most exciting aspect of business. However, there is one way to not only make the prospect less of a chore, but also ensure the end result is more appealing for readers: take lessons from the world of storytelling.

Instead of sticking to uninspiring text, dense paragraphs and rigid columns of figures, you could take your data and build a narrative around it that keeps the audience engaged and makes your message memorable.

Here are a few reasons why you'd want to do this.

Why tell a story?

The human brain loves stories because they appeal to its pattern-seeking nature. They help to bring order to chaos, explain events and allow the world to be seen through the eyes of others. Indeed, a study at Princeton University involving storytellers and listeners found their brains became synchronized after just a few seconds of an anecdote, demonstrating empathy and greater understanding of meaning in the listener.

This is because just thinking about a subject is enough to fire up the brain as though it’s immersed in the act. This activity can last for several days, which helps to create a lasting impression of the story.

By including storytelling in your reports you can:

  • Build trust
  • Give your audience a greater insight into your brand
  • Create greater engagement
  • Give a more relatable demonstration of what the business is doing and increase your perceived value
  • Ensure your overall message is clearly understood and your figures are notmisinterpreted

To ensure an interesting narrative, it's vital to consider not only the copy within your report but also the design elements like color, imagery and data visualization that help bring it to life. With an array of free design tools at your disposal, there's really no excuse to let bad presentation prevent you from telling a good story.

Here are some examples of things you could include to great effect:

  • Infographics
  • Images to represent equivalents in your statistics (e.g. 'this saved enough paper to stackas tall as two Eiffel Towers')
  • Case studies featuring people's faces
  • Pull quotes and magazine-style boxouts for key figures
  • Flowcharts
  • Bullet points
  • On-brand images (you need to maintain consistency and recognition)
  • Videos, if your report will be viewed solely on screens (66% of people say they'd prefer to watch a short video to learn about a product or service)

Learn more: The CFO's 6-Point Plan for Optimizing ERP Reporting

According to Brain Rules, only 10% of the information people hear can be retained three days after they hear it. However, if the same information is teamed with a relevant image, 65% of its message can be retained three days later.

That's why 40% of marketers surveyed by Venngage said they think up to 80% of businesses will rely heavily on visual content this year, and it's why your report could significantly benefit from it too.

With all of this in mind, how can storytelling actually be applied when it comes to financial reports?

How to tell a good story in your financial reports

1. Gather everything that's relevant

Although you're trying to make your dense data more appealing, it's essential not to cut out vital statistics and parts of your message. So, just as a novelist spends time preparing and gathering their notes ahead of writing a book, you should spend time assembling everything you need before making a start. Only then will you be able to see the crux of your story.

2. Understand your audience

This is arguably the most crucial tip, as different audiences will need you to tell your story in different ways. For example, is your report going to sales executives or the chief executive, clients or stakeholders? Keeping them in mind and speaking directly to them can ensure they understand what you have to say.

Bear in mind that you may have to explain jargon you use as a matter of course if your readers might not understand it, such as spelling out acronyms or defining market terminology. Failing to do so and having an audience member too embarrassed to ask is a sure-fire way to switch them off.

And, regardless of who your audience is, aim to use language that's as clear as possible and to inform rather than impress. Cheesy buzzwords and unnecessarily complex vocabulary should be left firmly behind.

3. Keep your narrative in focus

Finally, you should keep your planned narrative in focus and avoid going off on tangents as you write your report. You need a clear beginning, middle and end if you want to keep your audience's attention, so look for a theme in your message, build the story around it, and know the takeaway message as you build to your conclusion.

As you can see, it's easy to devise a creative way to present previously dry reports, no matter what your budget. Do it well and you could really make a statement at the end of the financial year.

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