1. Write it! (Don’t PowerPoint it)
Writing is thinking. There is no better way to work through insights than by writing the story. Writing forces clarity. It forces you to connect concepts. It won’t allow you to make leaps of logic. It demands flow and coherence. Write the story first. Then use presentation software to visualize the story you’ve written (assuming you’re deliverable is a digital deck).
2. Learn the craft of good writing (Read William Zinsser’s On Writing Well).
“The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components,” writes William Zinsser. That’s great advice. Good writing is concise. Much writing in our business is over-adorned. Big words don’t make you sound smarter. They make your stories less clear. On Writing Well will inspire you. If you’ve never read it, download it today. If you have read it, read it again.
3. Tell a Story. Don’t Report Data.
So many people in our business report data in the order of the questionnaire or discussion guide. That’s not a story, that’s a list. When writing a Strategic Story, don’t start with the first question or even the first objective. Instead, start with the single-most important insight you found. Journalists call this “the lead.” Hit your audience hard with it in the first paragraph. You’ll have their attention from the beginning.
4. Write a letter to a friend.
A journalism teacher once told me to start complicated stories by putting my notes aside and writing a letter to a friend. “Dear So-and-So, I’m working on a really interesting story. Let me tell you about it.” Let it flow from there. Before you know it, you’ll have the basis for your narrative.
5. Find the dramatic tension…and resolve it!
Good stories are dramatic. To tell a good Strategic Story, dramatize your data. Research [IRB1] projects often unfold like mystery stories. The business challenges you face or the research question(s) you’re trying to answer are all sources of dramatic tension. Build your story around that tension. Then resolve it with your insights.