Finance and accounting professionals reside in the epicentre of our functioning society and economy. The accountancy profession, in particular, plays an essential role in economic development. If businesses are not filing their accounts, global organisations can be detrimentally impacted in an array of ways which in turn has a domino effect on stock markets, employment levels, organisational productivity, and more.
But despite the importance of these sectors, accounting is still seen as a ‘dark art’. Many on the outside do not fully understand what accountants do, and why the fiscal data that organisations process matters.
This is in part to the language accountants work in, centred around numbers, statistics, hard data and figures. Other professions simply don’t think in this numeric way, so vital data and information which can help leaders and strategists make important business decisions, can get missed or overlooked.
What actually is storytelling?
Storytelling is considered a creative skill. It puts context, perspective, and detail around an otherwise flat set of data or findings which helps people to understand what impact the numerical data has on business functions. It helps us to join the dots between data and relate it to our world view.
For example, a study conducted by Stanford University looked at two variations of a charity brochure. The findings show 63 per cent of participants surveyed remembered the stories and sentiments of the brochure, while only 5 per cent could remember a single statistic.
Professionals often rely on too much numerical targets rather than using the art of storytelling to communicate clearly and visually the impact their work can have. According to a survey by Accenture, 81 per cent of respondents identified storytelling as an essential skill for finance professionals.
So how can finance and accountancy professionals, and indeed, professionals of other sectors, tell the story behind their work?
What is the human interest?
Storytelling is about collating complex data and shaping it into a story that people can understand in their own way. Accountants should consider taking a set of data and creating an engaging narrative to explain the human interest.
Do the numbers relate to revenue, profit, business decisions, redundancies, or candidates? Produce a comprehensive story about how a set of numbers indicates stock markets dropping, or further financial software is needed to cut company costs. Real-life scenarios allows people to bridge the gap between organisational data and everyone else.
Technology offers an abundance of tools accountants and financial professionals can use to communicate their messages effectively and efficiently. Data visualisation tools and apps, which can produce diagrams, maps, pictures, and charts, for example, are easy to digest, and ensures results are memorable.
And with the visual and collaborative nature of social media, sharing visual digital assets such as infographics and videos can reach a much wider audience. This is where the traditional role of accountants and financial professionals evolves from number-cruncher to changemaker.
Storytelling plays a huge part in communicating vital information the world needs to know. And in a world where companies are expected to be increasingly transparent with their audiences, storytelling as a skill will no doubt be one that accountants and financial organisations should build on.