Slay your annual report dragon for a happy ever after

Once upon a time, an ugly ogre slowly sandwiched a fly between his fat fingers, unfurled his corpulent carcass, and opened his bedtime story to the page on financial accountability.

Wait, stop!

I know a bedtime story is sleep-inducing, but isn’t this taking things to extreme?

Financial accountability belongs in an annual report and everyone knows those things are a deadly dull box-ticking exercise, right? A last-minute scramble to get the thing out, and if you’re lucky, no one will open that book again.

If that’s your story, maybe it’s time for a new chapter. Yes, your report needs to meet certain statutory stipulations, but that doesn’t mean it can’t hum with life and tell a story.

You don’t even need a fairy godmother to make your report sing. Ask yourself, what’s the story here? Is it making customers the star, showing the impact of your organisation, or leading through innovation? Do you have a rags-to-riches tale, a monster to overcome, a ‘phoenix from the ashes’ story? Is your story a quest for the holy grail — facing challenges as you move ahead?

Chapter one — think and plan before you write

All good tales start with setting the scene — who are the characters, what’s the context, what’s changed? Here are some other things to think about when planning your report.

Think about the one abiding theme or main question your report will answer.

Think about the questions your readers will have.

Think about how your report will be used.

Think about the best format — printed or digital, or both.

Think about your company’s unique culture and personality.

Image, Man looking across the tops of clouds.

Think and plan to see the big picture of your report. Image by Unsplash / CC0

Chapter two — write like a human, for other humans

People like reading about other people, and relating things to their own lives. When it comes time to writing the content for your report, write in a way that brings your report to life. Use simple sentences with strong active verbs. Avoid verbal clip-art such as ‘leveraging situations’ and ‘synergising solutions’. Write focused dynamic content that supports your main theme.

Answer your main question and the ‘so what’ factor — show the human success. Include relevant information to justify your answer. Be brief and concise.

Focus on results — what concrete evidence do you have that the dollars are being spent wisely?

Explain what’s different to previous years. Summarise and compare.

Write content that can easily be scanned and referred back to.

Use graphs, tables, and photographs to support your key messages.

Explain technical terms and cut out the jargon.

Present figures in a way that readers can usefully compare.

Image, Books on a bookshelf.

Create a classic by telling a good story. Image by Clem Onojeghuo / CC0

Chapter three — check your story has a happy ending

Before you can display your report on the shelf, you need to check it does what it says on the cover.

Does your report tell a consistent story?

Does it pass the wicked NONG test — no overlaps; no gaps?

Does it have a consistent tone?

Does your report meet regulatory requirements?

Does it draw out connections between different sections?

Is it fair and balanced?

Is it accurate?

Is it error-free?

Image, Fairy in the sky with wand.

Turn tragic into magic — make your annual report sparkle. Image by Fröken Fokus / CC0

Epilogue — need rescuing? Write can help

Whether you need a hand saddling up your steed or a full-scale rescue from a burning tower, Write has the wands and wizardry to help you.

Our consultants can help you identify themes and storylines. We can write and edit the content. We can proofread to make sure your tale has a happy ending. We can put the twinkle in the eye of your readers.

Annual reports are no longer just a chore to be dutifully done in a traditional way. Don’t get left behind. Sweep away the cinders, plan your report early, and decide how your story will end.

Use these useful links for inspiration

Read about the seven stories that rule the world

Shopify shows how to tell a story in 2016

Z Energy’s 2016 annual report is clear and convincing

Mercer NZ Ltd’s 2016 annual report connects with readers

Read our blog post on aiming for clarity in annual reports

Read more about our report writing workshops

Our consultants can help you any time

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4 responses to “Slay your annual report dragon for a happy ever after”

  1. Jayne Dalmer says:

    Absolutely. And authenticity builds trust.

  2. Judy Knighton says:

    The story needs an upward trajectory, but not necessarily a happy ending. Has it been a bad year? The annual report needs to say so, explain why, and set out a plan for turning things around. Now that’s a story you can trust.

  3. Corinna Lines says:

    I’ve proofread a lot of annual reports in my life, and this is (in a word) MAGIC!

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