From Hollywood to Bay Street – Success is Defined by the Story You Tell

Famous Hollywood screenwriter and Professor Robert McKee once said that “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world.”

Stories are all around us. They’re part of our DNA. From as far back as childhood, we can still remember our parents reading stories to us. Stories are how we share information and impart meaning to our world. They’re how we experience emotion and put our lives in context.

In the business world, at some point in your career, success will depend on how well you can sell your story. If you’re the CEO or CFO of a public company, you better have a compelling and engaging story to attract shareholders and investors. Money begets money, and one way to get it is to have a good story.

The Importance of Story in the Finance Industry

No one can dispute the fact that the world of finance is driven by numbers. Data is everywhere, and savvy CEO’s and CFO’s are hard pressed to find meaning and context in the numbers. In a world where financial professionals are being pulled in all directions to translate complex information, they must also find a way to move beyond being a traditional “talking head” and structure data and information in a way that incites a call to action.

In a competitive environment stories are the real connector and, if used effectively, can provide a bridge between the C-Suite and Main Street.

How to be a Better Storyteller

1. Look at the structure of successful stories

American author and Professor Joseph Campbell’s theories have been used by a wide range of writers and artists including George Lucas of Star Wars fame. His books The Hero with a Thousand Faces and The Hero’s Journey delve into the structure and mythology of story by describing plot lines, story structure and characters that follow a series of archetypes. Stories have a beginning, middle and end as well as an “arc” involving some sort of conflict. The conflict creates tension until the hero moves in to deal with it moving the story forward.

2. Good stories involve a hero

Campbell’s archetype of a hero refers to someone who is able to perform huge tasks and overcome great odds to succeed on behalf of a particular group or person. For financial professionals, look at how you were able to overcome conflict and achieve a goal. How did you respond to a hostile bid? Why did you decide to restructure a particular department? What did you do to win the big sale? What was the story behind each action and who were the key characters?

3. Decide what you want from your audience

Craft your story to suit your key audience. Some parts of your story will be more important to some audiences than to others. Connect the dots for your listeners and follow the narrative to give them what they want.

Effective Presentations – It’s All About the Story

Financial information isn’t usually seen as being the type of content that would easily excite an audience. To engage an audience and make them interested in what you have to say, you have to present information in a compelling and memorable way. So how do you go about designing a presentation that energizes everyone in the room and makes the numbers come alive?

1. Think like Joseph Campbell – Explain your current situation and tell people where you want to go. By showing them a better way to do things, you’re highlighting a conflict that has to be solved and you will look like a hero if you’re able to solve it

2. Know your audience – Define your audience. What exactly do they want to hear and what is important to them? Think of your presentation as a press release. What’s the who, what, when, where and why behind the numbers?

3. Develop your narrative – Structure your presentation as a story. Use subheadings to highlight key parts of your story. Who are the main characters and who is the hero?

4. Be brief and avoid jargon – Tell your story in layman’s terms and don’t put too much information on each slide. Keep it simple

5. Use great images and graphics – Images tell a great story and can reinforce your narrative

How Storytelling Can Advance Your Career

Seth Godin, bestselling author and marketing guru, said that “Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.”

To cut through the clutter, you have to tell your story in an engaging way, and develop nerves of steel and dogged determination to be sure your story is heard by the right people, at the right time. Your career will be full of rejection, but successful people are able to take that criticism and constructively use it to get their own story heard.

If you can’t present your ideas, you won’t get very far. Feed your passion, and develop the skills needed to effectively present and sell ideas to people who can benefit most from those ideas.

Don’t give up. The world is waiting for a good story. Let yours be the one everyone starts talking about and your world will open up in ways you never dreamed possible.