Storytelling: A technology leader’s new essential skill

Storytelling: A technology leader’s new essential skill
October 31, 2023  |  BY

Until recently, corporate storytelling was solely the responsibility of marketers and branders, as well as sales and communications professionals. But today, IT leaders must also be more effective at persuasive communication. Storytelling allows CIOs and CTOs to effectively convey their perspectives with their partners and other C-level colleagues.

As stronger communicators, technology professionals don’t only convince corporate leaders to see their viewpoints – they can influence key business decisions that will affect all areas of the enterprise. More so, IT personnel who possess excellent storytelling skills tend to outperform their peers, gain promotions at a higher rate, and express more career satisfaction.

The skill of storytelling represents the evolved role the 21st century CIO and CTO. In the not-so-distant past they focused on applications, infrastructure, networks, and security, but now they’re involved in all major business initiatives. Marketing, operations, HR, finance, ecommerce, distribution – you name it, everything depends on a rich technology network. Indeed, tech leaders are now expected to be business leaders, actively participating in defining corporate goals and its vision two, five, even ten years down the road.

To illustrate this shift, according to Deloitte, from 2017 to 2022, CIOs spent 11% less time as operators and 21% more time as strategists. And In order to state their strategic case, technology pros need to craft clear, concise, and impactful presentations. They must convey the value of their opinions, the rationale of that thinking, and how proposed strategies will provide practical value for the organization. Storytelling takes those elements and weaves in a narrative that both educates and inspires audiences.

The problem, of course, is that the concept of “storytelling” can be misunderstood. It’s not about literally telling tales with a plot and characters; it’s about injecting a narrative arc into otherwise static information, told with a compelling, conversational tone of voice.

For context, consider that technical presentations tend to be a long-winded and visually crowded series of slides filled with pure data. They don’t clearly translate how a specific set of facts will lead to a specific outcome. As such, they’re difficult to follow and often beg the question, “What do I DO with this information?”

But when IT pros are adept at storytelling, they end up truly connecting with audiences. Leaders from all business units understand their arguments, and see the logic of how they developed that line of thinking. They easily see how the dots connect rather than trying to figure out how the data connects.

The art of storytelling, in turn, drives more precise alignment between the IT and business sides of the table. And beyond delivering tangible improvements, the perception will elevate as well. Technology pros earn their stripes as valuable contributors to the overall success of the organization. In fact, over time, IT becomes an indispensable part of developing strategic initiatives.

Many may see storytelling as a subjective, immeasurable tactic. However, it’s important to realize that at the core, business communication is essentially about telling a story. The challenge is finding a common language that can bring together all of the essential people and departments. So by learning and applying the foundational elements of storytelling, tech leaders are equipped with a simple yet powerful way to convey their perspectives. And it’s a framework that can be applied to any format, from proposals to presentation slides to in-person meetings.

This flexibility is possible, in large part, because storytelling naturally allows audience to better visualize data. We can’t overstate this, as data informs nearly every vital business decision. But data is only useful when it’s meaningful. Numbers, graphs, and statistics are only as convincing as the insight that accompanies them. Storytelling acts as narrator for the data, helping tech leaders to explain the true implications of how numbers are affecting business performance.

Perhaps most importantly, storytelling fosters collaboration and innovation. CIOs and CTOs, more than ever, must gain buy-in and establish trusted rapport with other executives. Storytelling accomplishes those goals by not only helping to clearly articulate ideas, it allows leaders to show how specific strategies and tactics will benefit their colleagues. In turn, you see a boost in collaboration and the innovative thinking that naturally flows from working together more closely.

As we mentioned, CIOs and CTOs are now not only expected to understand business strategy, they’re expected to translate how technology will facilitate that strategy. Storytelling is now their most effective tool for doing so.