7 Strategic Tips for Effective Financial Writing
You did it! You persuaded your team to write about finance issues without relying on arcane finance terms. Now they use clear English instead. Nice to have that over with.
But a new problem has surfaced. No one is reading your team’s writing because it’s so brain-numbingly dull. Oops. Readers never noticed the dullness before because they never made the slog through all of the unfamiliar financial terms.
Will this writing challenge never end?
Take heart, finance leader. These seven tips have storytelling at their center. Storytelling—yes, as humans have done sitting around campfires for all of human history, only recently adding toasted marshmallows.
With or without toasted marshmallows, you can teach your team to turn their reports, emails and analyses into stories. As the campfire flickers on their faces, the audience will be eager to hear the whole story.
Storytelling is powerful communication
When your readers have time to read on their own, they read stories. Whether those stories are fiction or non-fiction, writing that captures our imaginations is storytelling.
1. Stories always have a beginning, middle and end. You’re analyzing the Q1 financial reports? Begin your analysis as a story. How did it start? “When we first saw the Q1 numbers, we thought there had been a mistake in compiling the data.”
Already, you have us. We want to know: were you right, or were the financials really that strong?
“Then we took a second look, and realized that our marketing campaign to 18-30 year-olds in Pittsburgh had struck gold.” We’re amazed: that narrow a demographic slice had made such a difference? Why?
“They drove a 24% increase in sales of luxury car mats in one quarter.”
The beauty of starting the analysis as a story is the ease of staying in that mode. We all know storytelling, and can flow with it. We have only three sentences, and we can already tell the story ourselves: Can you believe it? 18-30 year-olds in Pittsburgh drove a 24% increase in sales of luxury car mats in Q1 of this year!
Every other tip in this list relies on your using storytelling.
A word to the storytelling skeptic
Not buying it? I recently watched a fresh group of high-potential recruits, retired junior officers from the military, being coached to present their initial corporate process improvement projects to the senior leadership of a Fortune 25 company. One of the recruits was contemptuous of the storytelling emphasis and was sure the senior executives would want only her facts. During the presentation, the executives hammered one recruit because she failed to tell a story in her presentation. Guess who?
The rest of the story is quite straightforward
2. Imagine yourself presenting your key finding or insight to your audience. What questions would they have? Organize your story to answer the questions you can anticipate from your audience.
3. Convey your story with relevant images as well as text. We are visual creatures.
4. Break the story into digestible portions, signaled with headlines, titles and subtitles.
5. Remember the breakthrough you achieved by insisting on simple English? Continue to insist on simple English.
6. Tell the story in active voice, not passive voice. Example of active voice: “Every car mat bore the elegant logo that Justin Bieber himself had designed.” Example of passive voice: “An elegant design attributed to Justin Bieber had been put on every car mat.” Active voice is clearer, more direct and more engaging.
7. Use the great heritage of Anglo-Saxon words, the ones of one or two syllables. If it’s a “reason,” call it that—not a “justification.”
When the story is complete, make that fact clear. Put the final, caramelizing crust on that oozing marshmallow and hand the roasting stick to the eager audience. Their hands are outstretched. You’ve done your job.