David Schild is the founder and managing partner of Three Rivers Strategies. With 20 years of experience in corporate affairs with the aerospace and defense industry, he understands the importance of pairing brilliant engineers with talented storytellers. This article, originally published on LinkedIn, discusses how storytelling is a pillar of a high-performing communications strategy and how communication professionals can use this expertise to present scientific advancements and concepts as a compelling narrative.
Benjamin Franklin’s kite experiment is one of America’s best known tales of scientific discovery.
The image of Franklin — in his brown coat, with self-made bifocals on his nose, out in a lightning storm, holding a kite with a key on it — is deeply engrained in the minds of nearly every American schoolchild. It’s such a great story that it almost overshadows the scientific achievement: understanding the connection between lightning and electricity. Franklin used this to invent the lightning rod and subsequently save countless church steeples and residential chimneys.
Every technological advancement can benefit from a good story. Obstacles that were overcome, “Eureka!” moments and visions of how society will benefit are all details that help create a compelling narrative. But the engineers unlocking those advancements — or scientists, technologists or mathematicians — aren't always best equipped to tell that story. That’s why every brilliant engineer needs an equally brilliant storyteller. Luckily, communication professionals happen to excel in this area.
Storytelling is as much a skill as electrical engineering or applied mathematics. Good storytellers spend years honing their craft and sharpening their tools, learning how to refine narratives and identify words and phrasing that make an impact on an audience.
Businesses also benefit from a good story. A great example is Lee Iacocca, the man behind the Mustang, who used his salesmanship and vision to save Chrysler and popularize the minivan.
In the business world, storytelling is the backbone of a high-performing communications strategy. It tells your customers who you are, why you exist and why you matter. It builds interest among those looking to buy from you and deepens loyalty among those who have already become your customers.
When it comes time to promote a new technological breakthrough, storytelling explains how it was achieved, why it’s important and who will benefit. Every piece of content produced as part of a campaign — from press releases and white papers to videos and social media posts — help tell this story.
Good storytellers know the importance of understanding the audience and then crafting a message that will resonate. They also are skilled at making complex concepts easily understood.
An unfortunate mistake I’ve seen repeatedly over my career is assuming the audience has the same level of expertise as the person developing the technology. For example, the technologies that got us to the moon were not easily understood by the people funding the Apollo program. Today, policymakers are asked to understand concepts like artificial intelligence, quantum computing or MRNA vaccines. The technologies may have changed, but the need for accessible stories has not.
Documents written by engineers won’t just be read by other engineers. They will be read by business executives, lawyers, customers, investors and reporters. Even when the audience is other brilliant engineers, content prepared by equally brilliant storytellers can wrap in more effective prose, a compelling narrative, eye-catching imagery, company messaging and calls to action.
Let’s be clear. Hiring a brilliant storyteller to promote what your brilliant engineer achieved is not a knock on the engineer, just like seeing an orthopedic surgeon doesn’t mean you don’t trust your family physician. Professionals specialize for a reason. Your literal rocket scientist may be able to tell a good story, but it’s probably not the best use of their time and talents. Instead, it’s about playing to your organization’s strengths.
A good story does more than entertain. It can inform and educate. It also can invoke a strong emotional response and inspire the audience to take action. Let your talented engineers focus on unlocking the next big innovation, and then let your company’s storytellers tell everyone how brilliant it is.
Look forward to an accompanying article from Schild, which will share a real-life example of how communicators are the key to bringing complex stories to life.
David Schild is the founder and managing partner of Three Rivers Strategies. With 20 years of experience in corporate affairs with the aerospace and defense industry, he understands the importance of pairing brilliant engineers with talented storytellers.