Beyond Numbers: The Art of Storytelling in Finance

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I understand finance can be very complex

Kevin  Harrington

Most people believe the line about the world of finance is all about being numbers. There is truth to this, of course. Finance and business deal with cold, hard facts, with logic and evidence best presented in numbers, statistics, tables and graphs. But the truth is that words and stories are just as crucial to this numbers-dominated world. Investments, and success stories of big profits and gains are also effectively conveyed and told in stories.

Beyond Numbers: The Art of Storytelling in Finance

The Power of Stories in Finance

In finance, stories perform a complementary function to the pages and pages of numbers, graphs and spreadsheets.

For one, stories humanize the world of business. Finance may be about big investments, corporate jocks, and profits and losses, but it is also about people. Using stories to tell about the gains and profits of a business also gives face to the hundreds, perhaps millions of people who work in that company. Stories tell of a businessman’s tenacity and perseverance in getting his dream business up.

Stories also validate the numbers. They say that numbers don’t lie – and yes, they don’t. But Martha Amram, a business consultant, explains that while numbers provide objectivity, stories explain the plausibility of the truth reflected in the numbers. Stories and numbers together serve to help managers and businessmen make better, more informed decisions.

How to tell Stories in Finance

So now, if stories are just as crucial as the numbers, the next important issue is how to tell stories in finance. Storytelling in finance may be a whole lot different than when you are working on a fictional short story. For one, stories in finance are always grounded on reality and facts. Also, the tone, language and writing style are more formal than creative writing but still less structured and rigid than a technical report. But no matter the difference from creative and academic or technical writing, storytelling in business is highly, definitely possible and feasible.

Take a breath and remember these pointers on how to tell stories in finance

  • Don’t forget success stories and pessimistic views. One of the more structured aspects about business stories is that every story almost – always – focuses on two things: success stories and pessimistic views. As long as these two things are present, then your story has value for these are what most leaders and senior managers always look for.
  • Do not forget numbers and pictures. Essentially, storytelling in finance is much like writing up a case study. It is based on facts – not just adapted from or inspired by some facets of reality – and it attempts to take a closer, detailed look at the big picture and how the small details make up the big picture. That said, it is important not to lose sight of the real nature of the stories. They are still stories in a world where numbers rule, so make sure that you use numbers and pictures to support the words. Like case studies, the words serve to explain further the meaning behind the numbers. Visuals also make appreciating and understanding the words easier.
  • Make sure there is enough story to tell. One more pointer on how to tell stories in finance is to ensure that the project’s story is ready to be told. Oftentimes, this is when a project is already complete, almost complete, or has reached a stage where significant gains have been accomplished and there is enough story to share. Martha Amram cautions that when there isn’t enough information available to weave a story, then the project is not yet ready. As a storyteller and a project manager, make sure there is enough case to build on that is worth writing about.

But like any writing exercise, writing stories in finance and business essentially capitalizes on words. And as a storyteller, the biggest challenge is always to find the best – and the right – words to use.

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