By Kristin Luck

Lately there’s been much debate about the importance of research storytelling. Forbes contributor Brent Dykes recently declared that unless we can improve the communication of insights, we will see a poorer insight to value conversion rate. “If an insight isn’t understood and isn’t compelling, no one will act on it and no change will occur.” On the other side of the debate, Steve Needel recently blogged on Greenbook that researchers think we need to tell stories because we “think our audience is dumb”.

For researchers with Steve’s line of thinking, creating a story around the data may seem like a lot of unnecessary work when the research findings should be sufficient to stand on their own. There’s a belief that the insights alone should inspire their audience to act. But this belief is based on a flawed assumption that business decisions are based solely on logic and reason. They aren’t.

Although I objected to most of Steve’s blog post, I do agree with one of his points – telling stories doesn’t necessarily come naturally. As researchers we are inundated with data. But it’s important to remember that when we (or our clients) are reading straight data, only the language parts of the brain work to decode the meaning. When we read a story, not only do the language areas of our brains light up, but so do other areas of the brain that we would use if we were actually experiencing what we’re reading about. Stories have the ability to engage an audience in a way that logic and bullet points never can.

Whether you’re using research to convince internal stakeholders, inspire clients with data or sell your next big idea (or project!), great storytelling can mean the difference between lackluster results and mind blowing success.

So how to become a master storyteller?

Here are 4 tips for great storytelling that I’ll be digging into next month at ESOMAR’s Summer Academy:

  1. Establish a connection and make your audience root for you. Personalizing your stories is key to connecting with your audience but steer clear of the “humble brag.” In interviews and client meetings you’ve likely been trained to talk yourself up, but in storytelling, people want to root for an underdog. Storytelling is not pitching.
  1. Make it memorable.Making a story memorable is as important as establishing a connection. Stories can be about very small stuff, so long as the emotions involved are big.
  1. Deliver meaning.Stories are memorable patterns with meaning. The challenge with being a researcher is that sometimes what we’re presenting (for instance selecting the label for a new brand of soup), doesn’t have a lot of meaning. This is why storytelling is critical to our success not just as researchers but as business owners.
  1. Don’t forget your “hook.”Finding a hook, that link between the research and the story, is imperative. There’s a great quotation from Christina Baldwin: “Words are how we think, stories are how we link.” Make sure your story has a clear beginning, middle and most important, an END that brings it all together.

Today researchers also have a wide array of emerging research methods and technology solutions at their disposal to bridge the storytelling gap. From Insites “consumer consulting boards” to Voxpopme’s video open end technology, we now have the ability to connect brands with real consumer stories – told in their own words (for an example, click here).

Establishing connection, making stories memorable, delivering meaning and finding your “hook” – we’ll be digging in (and practicing) these key principles, as well as exploring new technology and research methods that make storytelling accessible, during my storytelling workshop at the ESOMAR Summer Academy in Amsterdam on June 7.

I hope to see you in Amsterdam!

By Kristin Luck,