“We’re so complex; we’re mysteries to ourselves; we’re difficult to each other. And then storytelling reminds us we’re all the same.” Brad Pitt

There is something magical about a good story told well.  Sometimes it can be difficult to say whether it is the storyline that holds the attention or perhaps the way it is being told, but when both are good, the combination is gripping and can form a long-lasting memory.   I am sure all of us can recall a moment when we were entranced by a narrative; where we are almost drawn into the story, as if living it in the moment.  The most powerful of these are likely to be fictional stories where our imagination visualises the pictures conveyed by the words.  It is a similar effect we try and achieve in work when presenting, but perhaps with less whimsy!    Unfortunately, whilst the intent is often there, so frequently the end result falls far short of this effect – either through a poorly constructed story or a bad execution of the narrative or, on many occasions, both.

The world of investment management is littered with the discarded remnants of pitchbooks that didn’t make the grade; that failed to tell the story or where the soporific properties were so strong, they nudged even the most enthusiastic insomniac into a deep sleep.  More worryingly there are plenty of these still in use and the tales of near death by PowerPoint are rife in the industry.  Notwithstanding the mini-industry of consultants advising on what to do and what to avoid, It seems there is an overwhelming temptation to overload presentations with words, screenshots, charts and graphs.   Of greater concern is the more recent trend to weave in the latest must-have acronyms or politically correct phrases – claims of diversity where the is palpably none or of ESG integration where the reality is greenwashing. 

Although this post may seem dismissive of marketing teams’ efforts to construct the ideal story, I do have a lot of sympathy with their cause.  Investment processes are never straight forward or easy to condense into a single image or phrase.  Claims must  be evidenced and regulation requires a whole host of disclaimers and riders to ensure an accurate picture is being conveyed.  The issue is exacerbated by having to create one presentation that can be used by a range of employees.  Some speakers feel the need to rely on the presentation, whereas others are comfortable just talking without.  But it can be that intersection between a speaker who is able to independently convey the message whilst using the presentation deck to visualise the idea that I think works best.   

I used to work with an investment manager who had such clarity of their own investment process that they never needed to open a presentation book to get their message across, yet would invariably scribble an image of earnings growth on a piece of paper to demonstrate the point at which they would buy a company.  In time, that scribble was incorporated into their deck and most of the meeting would be spent just on that one page.  The image reinforced the story and provided clarity to the audience about what the manager was looking for.  It wasn’t quite Harry Potter, but at least a story was told.

So the moral of the story? 

  • Keep it simple and make sure the narrative reflects reality! 
  • Fewer words are better (and that is from someone who writes verbose blogs!). 
  • Don’t try and cram every last detail in.
  • Images reinforce the story better than words.

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