Lately at the office I’ve been telling the engineers on my defense laboratory team that when it comes to communications we need to entertain, then educate. Naturally, I’ve gotten a few raised eyebrows, so let me explain: before we hurl lots of tech at an audience, we need to tell them a story. We need to hook their interest, make them curious. Because if we can grab their initial interest (entertainment), we now have the opportunity to explain our product and why it matters (education).
As David Schild of Three Rivers Strategies puts it, every technological advancement can benefit from a good story. In the business world, “storytelling is the backbone of a high-performing communications strategy.” Tell your stakeholders who you are, why you do what you do, and why it matters. Build interest and deepen loyalty to the cause you support. (And yes, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that every single engineer who works in a defense laboratory is supporting a cause.)
If you're wondering where to start with the story, try this on for size: on the way to every technological breakthrough are obstacles. Illustrating these obstacles not only provides a compelling part of the story, but prompts the reader to root for the engineer or team to overcome these challenges. A solution hard-earned is the most satisfying. Storytelling explains how it was achieved and why it’s important.
According to Divya Parekh at Forbes, “a good story is something a person can relate to, thus making understanding of what the story is about easy to grasp.” I would take this idea one step further and suggest that a story sticks better in the mind of the reader when the abstract is made concrete. Cybersecurity, for example, can be a difficult area to visualize; when we tell the story of how a ransomware attack affected a hospital’s health systems and its patients, an audience can now comprehend both the impact and the importance that cybersecurity plays in prevention and mitigation.
Communicators in the defense industry should encourage engineers to think like a communicator. Whether developing an article or video together, ask them to put themselves in the shoes of the audience: what is the most interesting thing we can say first to our audience? What specific challenge are we trying to solve for them? Does the audience have as much tech knowledge as we do, or do we need to first provide context? And so on.
Both engineers and storytellers are creative. They’re just creative in different ways. The world in which we live in today is shaped and advanced through the creations of engineers. They are the ultimate problem solvers, the captain of a ship in uncharted waters. Clearly, the world needs engineers and their creations, but engineers need storytellers to explain why it matters, while igniting the meaning behind their inventions with vibrant colors.
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About Jessica Lauren Walton: Jessica is a communications strategist, video producer, and writer in the U.S. defense industry. She has written articles on a range of security and mental health topics and conducted interviews with military leadership, psychologists, journalists, CIA officers, filmmakers, and more. Jessica recently completed her memoir about her experience as an American woman struggling with mental illness while trying to get into Israeli intelligence.