Have you ever sat through a presentation of slide after slide and found yourself struggling to pay attention, even though the topic was of interest and importance to you? On the other hand, you can probably think of some other memorable presentation which you remember so clearly that the lesson is still fresh in your mind. Chances are that the difference between the two was the format in which the lesson was presented.
Sharing information through storytelling has always been a part of the human experience. Just think of how well you remember lines and scenes from your favorite books or movies, for example. We are hardwired to look for the story in information presented to us, rather than just a series of statements, facts or data. When a message is put into the form of a story, your audience will immediately grasp the concepts you are trying to share.
Good stories always include a plot, characters, and a narrative point of view. Let’s say a Transportation Director is asked the question “Are we operating safe and reliable buses?” The knee jerk reaction might be to simply state that the buses are safe, and leave it at that. This can come across as a defensive or even confrontational response. But instead, imagine a presentation in which the Director tells a story that included the following elements:
The plot: What are we doing to keep our kids safe?
The characters: This is the average age of our buses. These are our buses with seat belts. These are our buses with video cameras. This is how we are doing on our pass rates for our mandatory state inspections. This is our out-of-service rate. This is the average seniority of our bus drivers. This is the turnover rate for our bus drivers. This is the training our drivers receive.
The narrative point of view: This data shows that we are operating a program that is highly focused on safety.
This is the real value of having KPI data available and updated for use. Think of using these multiple data points as a way to create building blocks that assemble to tell a more complete picture. The Director has shaped the conversation by demonstrating areas of success and also opportunities for improvement. He or she has helped their audience understand that there are a lot of elements to look at in order to correctly answer the question. The Director keeps the story focused on the higher-level outcomes that are important for the program, in this case how each of these elements contributes to keeping kids safe. Telling this story leads to a lesson that is compelling and memorable.