TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

Marketing IT In-House: 3 Tips for Telling a Good BI Story

Your business colleagues will remember a great story, so learning to tell your team's story can win and keep your in-house customers.

One of the best things going for your BI team is your story. You and your team have lived it together. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean you're automatically ready to tell it. You have to put your heads together, outline the story, and then practice telling it as a history of growth and success.

I've made good money by telling stories. You can, too, by winning and keeping in-house customers. Well-told stories hold attention and persuade listeners.

Here are three tips for telling your BI stories.

Tip #1: Stick to Real Life

Human memory is wired for the structure good stories have. I say this as an expert in learning and memory. We remember stories much more easily than we remember technical information, presentations filled with geometric shapes, or other abstract content.

No matter how much you love the logic of a presentation, humans more easily retain and pass along information that is structured as a story -- an "adventure" with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

For BI, that will normally mean a problem, a struggle, and then success or failure.

Life itself is one story after another. They fill our days. What your in-house customers -- and user management -- need are stories of hope, cooperation, and success. There's money in that.

Tip #2: Nail Down the Details Together

A big obstacle to telling a story with which we're very familiar is that we know it so well. We are prone to omit some details, because we forget that our listeners don't know what we know.

We think we have communicated all the essentials when we've actually only said part of what we intended. We see this happen when a supervisor gives instructions that lack specifics.

Supervisor: "Henry, what am I supposed to do with these C++ programming manuals? I asked you to bring the project manuals to the meeting."

Henry: "You pointed at a stack of C++ manuals, so I stopped by on my way here and grabbed them."

Supervisor: "Whatever. You knew which ones I meant."

You can't make assumptions like that if you want to tell a good story. You have to nail everything down with your team's input. It would be strange indeed if you could tell the story without their help.

Tip #3: Find the Major Themes

Some BI teams don't have more than one good story. If you're working smart, you will have several major themes that can be told as separate adventures.

Detail the history of your team's relationship with your enterprise, then separate the details into however many stories they form. Do you see three, four, maybe more?

Label or describe each one. They might be:

  • The cost reduction that the operations director attributed to us
  • The disaster we caused the transportation department by failing to listen to their needs
  • The way we turned that disaster around by finding a new way to put a project team together even when we're in different locations
  • How we won upper management's approval for funding a completely new data warehouse for the marketing department

Wow, those are stories worth telling!

Believe Your Story Is Interesting

I've been telling stories in written and spoken form for years and for many different purposes. A frequent response I get when I ask people, "What's new?" is, "Oh, nothing -- just the same old, same old."

That's rarely the truth. In a minute or two I can dig up enough facts from these folks to start documenting true accomplishments. Of course, these stories are usually left untold.

Who wants to hear a great story that's interesting and illustrates how much you can help others? Who would listen to such success? Intelligent business users would!

We all need help with putting our stories together, all the more so because the people around us have essential perspectives and experiences we can't see on our own. Build your stories as a team, make them concrete (real life), and keep the abstract information to a minimum. Then everyone in your organization will have an easy time remembering who to call when they need what you do.

About the Author

Max T. Russell invites your questions about marketing. As owner of Max and Max Communications, he improves messages for BI, nonprofits, lawyers and alternative medicine. He and his identical twin, Max S., are heavy technology users who have been discussing and dissecting the challenges of IT in the workplace for the past 20 years. You can contact the author at maxt@maxtrussell.com.


TDWI Membership

Accelerate Your Projects,
and Your Career

TDWI Members have access to exclusive research reports, publications, communities and training.

Individual, Student, & Team memberships available.