By Jim Poage and Jennifer Poage
Why do some products gain mass appeal, acquire a dedicated following, and draw customers to wait in line for the latest version, while other product launches flop? Why do some stores attract a steady stream of trendy patrons, while other stores see lackluster sales? How are certain employees able to energize their colleagues and elicit enthusiastic participation, while others deflate the room? What sets these notable products, services, and people apart? It is the energy they create by telling a story through their offerings or work.
It’s a given that actuaries must possess mathematical and statistical competencies. However, independent actuaries also present their results and sell their services. Storytelling can help convey information in a stimulating manner and make it memorable; and a narrative approach can help engage your audience emotionally, energizing them to take action. You can tell a story to a client of what your results mean and how to use them. You can tell a story to a potential client of how you do your work, how you will work with a client, and how your past work has been used. To make it memorable, don’t just list what you do, tell a story of how you do it, what it means, and how it can be used.
You can tell effective, energizing stories if you understand how stories inspire people. Here are five reasons why actuaries should consider incorporating more storytelling when presenting their reports and analyses:
- People pay attention. “Human minds yield helplessly to the suction of story,” asserts Jonathan Gottschall. “No matter how hard we concentrate, no matter how deep we dig in our heels, we just can’t resist the gravity of alternate worlds. … If the storyteller is skilled, he simply invades us and takes over. There is little we can do to resist, aside from abruptly clapping the book shut.” This reflects the powerful effect narratives have on capturing our attention.
- Our minds fill in images and details. A story conveys a sweeping visual of the facts rather than just a list of information. You’re working to help your clients plan for their future. Creating a story around the facts illustrates their use and value in a realistic context. Stories spur your audience to create images and fill in details that relate the story to their own situations. They can envision themselves using and enjoying the offering or idea that your story conveys.
- Stories teach and prepare us. Stories convey situations we might face one day and present solutions we might use. Thus, a story can tell how a product or idea will work, how it will deliver a benefit, and what experience it will provide.
- Stories create a lasting bond. Sharing stories creates common experiences and unites people around ideas and offerings. Thus, stories provide a common base among your audience to share feelings about your ideas and offerings. They may imagine different scenarios for using your work or product, but there will be a unifying platform for dialog and for interactions to build enthusiasm.
- Motivate action. Stories encourage people to take action, since they describe how to act in a certain situation and provide the inspiration to do so. People are more likely to act in response to an emotional message conveyed through a story than when they are just presented with facts.
Jim Poage is co-author of Flair: Design Your Daily Work, Products, and Services to Energize Your Customers, Colleagues, and Audiences (Maven House). President of JLP Performance Consulting, he integrates technology and humans to work together safely and efficiently for NASA, FAA, and industry. He holds a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from Harvard and B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford. Visit http://www.jimpoage.com/.
Jennifer Poage is co-author of Flair: Design Your Daily Work, Products, and Services to Energize Your Customers, Colleagues, and Audiences (Maven House) and is currently studying Fashion Design Management in London. Formerly, she was a technical designer for Adidas. She has a B.A. in Art History from Drew University and an A.A.S. in Fashion Studies from Parsons School of Design.