Why CTOs Must Become Better Storytellers

With chief technology officers increasingly involved in the sales cycle, their ability to craft and communicate compelling narratives is crucial.

Nathan Eddy, Freelance Writer

March 27, 2024

4 Min Read
Female and male entrepreneurs presenting business ideas during meeting at startup company
Maskot via Alamy Stock

The art of storytelling for chief technology officers is becoming more important as the tech landscape becomes ever more complex.  

The CTOs that are adept at crafting and communicating compelling narratives will benefit from better relationships and a more thorough understanding of their vision by those who are taken on this journey. 

With clear narratives, CTOs can offer assurance and gain trust. This, and the ability to effectively use customers and case studies as reference points, can prove imperative to initial and longer-term engagements. 

Metaphors, Analogies, Enthusiasm 

Frank Moyer, CTO at Kobiton, says with technologies like generative AI adding to this complexity, CTOs must use metaphors and analogies to make these concepts accessible to non-technical stakeholders. 

“This skill is vital in securing funding and driving organizational growth, as it transforms technical intricacies into engaging, understandable stories,” he explains in an email interview.  

The CTO's technical expertise, particularly in complex areas like AI, enables them to craft metaphors that link sophisticated concepts to more relatable, everyday ideas. 

This skill set empowers CTOs to communicate complex concepts in a simple, engaging manner to diverse and non-technical audiences, making their storytelling uniquely effective. 

Related:The Value of the Fractional Chief Technology Officer

Moyer adds CTOs can cultivate and convey enthusiasm for their technological vision by embodying genuine passion in their storytelling. 

“True passion is infectious; it naturally inspires and motivates stakeholders, including employees, investors, and customers,” he says. “When CTOs are authentically excited about their vision, this enthusiasm translates into compelling narratives that encourage active engagement and support for company initiatives.”  

Kristaps Petrovskis, CTO at Expereo, says he agrees humility and passion are key ingredients that separate a good CTO storyteller from a great CTO storyteller. “Like any executive, CTOs started at the bottom managing and developing technology, and the great ones still do to an extent,” he explains via email. “Their approach to their jobs -- getting in the trenches or hearing the stories -- helps them know the relevancy of today’s problems and be able to explain technology that’s relatable.” 

He adds CTOs must exhibit a certain level of humility by understanding that their jobs are unique, and they don’t always speak the same language as others. 

“One thing I’ve tried to do is take the approach of acting like I’m talking to my mom or dad about technology,” Petrovskis says. “Put it in highly relatable terms, based on the audience.” 

Related:Quick Study: The Evolving Roles of CIOs and IT Leaders

Understanding Stakeholder Needs  

David Lees, CTO of Basis Technologies, says impactful storytelling by CTOs can help demonstrate a complete understanding of stakeholder needs. “Most CTOs know their technological offerings inside and out, and how they can help the organization in the immediate and longer term,” he says. 

However, CTOs will need to communicate their expertise in a way that is accessible to other C-suite members in non-tech departments, turning complex, jargon-heavy ideas into simpler narratives. 

Gaining inspiration from stakeholders is not a one-size-fits-all exercise, so an in-depth knowledge of everyone empowers CTOs to tailor their communication on a case-by-case basis.  

Some employees or investors are motivated by facts and figures, for example pointing out how recent upgrades have doubled service speeds in comparison to a competitor. 

“Others may react better to qualitative feedback, such as sharing communications from a user having a positive experience with a particular product or service,” Lees says.  

Because investor relations are all about inspiring confidence, to do so CTOs need to go beyond unique, detailed IT aspects, and instead position technological developments as a crucial part of the company’s overall strategy. 

Related:Do You Need a CTO: Decision Factors

“Investors care about performance across every level, so they need to be convinced that tech investment is foundational to improving performance across numerous touchpoints, with business growth usually at the top of their concerns,” Lee says.  

Enhancing Storytelling Skills  

Lees explains most CTOs will have learned the art of storytelling through mentors throughout their careers, but wherever they are on their journey, it’s never too late to learn something new or absorb tips from the leaders around them. 

“This could be inside their organization, but plenty of resources exist externally, too,” he says. “The point is storytelling for CTOs must be worked on purposefully; it is an independent skill. We can never craft the perfect narrative but it’s our job to try all the same.” 

Petrovskis says he recommends ditching whitepapers and reading case studies, but most important is to get out in front of your customers. 

“Don’t get me wrong, there’s a time and place for whitepapers, but they don’t really provide the real feel of customer issues and understanding the issues your customers face will allow you to be far more relatable to the audiences you’re trying to reach,” he explains.  

From his perspective, the best storytellers know the ins and outs -- interesting details -- of a story that allows them to present it in a way that’s fluid and believable. 

“Anecdotal stories will resonate better and stay in minds longer than dry technical facts,” he says. “People who talk at 30,000 feet are easy to spot. They know you’re not being honest or understanding the problem. Be ready to bring it down to a much closer level.” 

He also suggests spending time at user conferences to hear about the issues and how they were overcome. “Technology’s intended outcome is more human time for humans, and that starts with talking with humans,” Petrovskis says. 

About the Author(s)

Nathan Eddy

Freelance Writer

Nathan Eddy is a freelance writer for InformationWeek. He has written for Popular Mechanics, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, FierceMarkets, and CRN, among others. In 2012 he made his first documentary film, The Absent Column. He currently lives in Berlin.

Never Miss a Beat: Get a snapshot of the issues affecting the IT industry straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights