Tell the Insight Story: Substance, Structure and Showtime

My earlier article – Seven tests to ensure you have a compelling insight storyline – has attracted a lot of positive attention. This has prompted a number of you to ask about how to acquire the storytelling craft. In response to this I will be running a free webinar on the Art of Telling the Insight story next month – look out for details.

In the interim I want to share my top three S’s for being a great insight storyteller – make sure you have Substance, Structure and Showtime.  


We start by going back to basics. Delivering actionable substance lies at the heart of a great story. It is all about telling the audience something new and different that helps them answer the business question and creating an Aha moment.

Before we even heard of storytelling in the insight context, outstanding insight professionals recognised the importance of having a central core concept – a true genuine authentic insight – at the heart of their presentation. This is not about having a mildly interesting piece of data, but having solid evidence-based observations about customers’ motivations and how these are likely to affect their behaviour. High performance insight professionals know that the platform for their story requires them to fully understand the audience’s expectations – at the outset, they know to ask key stakeholders some penetrating questions.

Insight professionals on top of their game must also have total clarity of purpose and always act with intentionality to achieve this. From the outset, they know what change they want to bring about in the audience by giving their presentation. They always begin with the end in mind.

Thus, great storytelling is founded on knowing and agonising about the nature of the true business question and delivering actionable substance for key stakeholders.


Our second S is Structure – this is a funny thing. When a well-formed structure is in place – one that takes the audience on a journey – it is often taken for granted. But, when there is little or no structure, and an audience is having to fight their way through a disjointed, muddled route to a solution – then this becomes a major turn-off.

So, knowing how to frame the decision choices open to stakeholders and elegantly integrate all the relevant evidence into a storyline that naturally flows is a pivotal storytelling skill.

In my upcoming free webinar, I will be outlining some different linear and also non-linear story structures to follow in constructing a compelling insight narrative.

One tip here is to walk through a draft presentation outline, reading it aloud, to see whether you as the presenter feel that you are taking the audience on a journey that flows effortlessly from one point to the next. Be honest with yourself – if you feel that there are a lot of disconnects, it is time to go back to the drawing board and rework the architecture of your storyline.


And the final S is Showtime. Good storytellers fully embrace the fact that we are fighting for the audience’s attention. It is our responsibility to work hard at the craft of being influential and persuasive. We shouldn’t self-sabotage our efforts by somehow convincing ourselves that, because we are researchers, our facts and figures will do all the talking. Today, insight professionals need to step up to the plate and recognise that we need to pull out the stops to engage our busy audiences.

We need to change the pace of a presentation, switching from presenting aggregate statistics to telling the story through the lens of an individual customer. We need to turn away from presenting data-centric problems to designing intuitive to understand visual solutions. And throughout we need to take care with our words and build a theme for our story that resonates with the audience.

And, we need to put some of ourselves into a presentation and acquire the skill of delivering ‘personal storytelling episodes’- where we share out point of view. It is about picking from the toolbag of available Impact techniques to keep the audience engaged.

Again, in the free webinar I will give you a checklist of impact techniques you can use to give your next presentation that Wow factor.

Once again, many thanks for the positive comments about my Seven Tests article and I hope the three S’s help for now. More on this in the upcoming DVL Smith free storytelling webinar. 

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