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Take your annual report from boring to brilliant

By Jacqui O'Brien by Jacqui O'Brien 8 min

Annual reports are a business’ once-yearly opportunity to showcase all their glorious achievements and generate excitement among shareholders, stakeholders and employees. But all too often, these annual reports are anything but glorious, and they’re certainly not exciting; they’re a real drudge!

Yes, pumping out the same lackluster and mind-numbingly boring report year-after-year; a mash-up of tables, numbers and text, is a sure-fire way of doing the exact opposite of what you set out to achieve. They’ll fill your employees with dread, bore the pants off your shareholders and leave stakeholders thoroughly unimpressed (that’s if they can muster the staying power to get through it). If this sounds like your approach, it’s time to untrap the trapped record and throw in a bit of pizzazz – the type of spark needed to give a glimpse of your incredible company culture and get everyone as excited as you’ve been about your successes and future potential.


What’s the big story?

Before you start designing your report it’s important to get your overall story straight. Your story will be the anchor point for all the information included and how this is presented – right through to how you organise and structure your key components. With a clear and compelling narrative running through the report, readers will be much more likely to stay engaged from beginning to end. So, what’s the story you really want to tell this year?

There are many different stories a business could tell in an annual report. For example, how the business has evolved in the last 12 months, the several milestones of success, the key learning experiences you’ll take forward in future, or even, how the business has changed the lives or customers. All these stories are likely to impact how stakeholders, shareholders, and employees think about the business and brand.


Make visual masterpieces out of facts and data

Annual reports by their very nature are supposed to be highly factual and informative. In other words, you “prove as you go” (through that story) – especially if your report is largely finance-focussed. But the type (and quantity) of numbers, statistics, and facts required to back up everything you’re saying can be a real killer for engagement. Visually appealing infographics and diagrams are a valuable tool for making sense of all those numbers. They offer an effective means to highlight and present relevant and impactful data while aiding its analysis and interpretation. Better still, crucial data will be far more memorable when presented in a visual form as opposed to a written statement or bland table or chart. And memorability is the holy grail of good reporting!


Small bites make for easy digestion

While it’s wise to keep your report as short and concise as possible, some will always be longer than others – depending on the year you’ve had. But don’t force your readers to bite off more than they can chew with pages of convoluted arguments and information which all run into one another. Organise your annual report into easily digestible chapters of information where visual cues, such as colours and graphics, are used to indicate that everything has some breathing space of its own. This way, it’ll encourage readers to think in manageable stages while it’s also easier to navigate and glean the key points.


Variety is the spice of life

Monotony is usually the root cause of boredom, so don’t make all your employees, stakeholders and shareholders think it’s Groundhog Day every time you send a report through. Inject some variety and individuality into your reports, both within the report itself and year-on-year, by using a mixture of well-placed graphics, text, and real-life images. For example, images could be used alongside customer profiles or case studies – or they could even be used to showcase notable employees and events. Trust us, it’ll be much more readable.


Design for scalability

It takes a lot of time and effort to compile a persuasive, informative and engaging report, so make one that works for you – now and into the future. Yes, an annual report is your overview of the year gone by, but what if someone wants to dig deeper into your figures and findings? Similarly, what happens when someone wants to share the essence of your story (but not the whole 10 pages of it)? There are two ways to ensure your official report can be an effective anchor for future uses – no matter how serious or brief. Links to external company resources such as other financial reports and research will provide an easy avenue for those keen to learn more. Meanwhile, a short executive summary, headings and careful use of typography to emphasize key points, could make aspects of your report easily shareable on social media.


Evoke emotion and speak with your very own visual language

It doesn’t matter who’s reading your report, you’re no doubt looking for people to invest in your brand, whether that be financially or emotionally. To this end, all your successes and accomplishments must generate impact. Consider how you could highlight these successes and accomplishments by demonstrating how they’ve affected individuals inside and outside the business. Real-life stories, quotes, testimonials or even sound bites, are all highly effective tools for doing just that.

All these emotive elements will come together nicely to advance your overall story in the most persuasive way possible – provided they’re accompanied by the right visual language. Throughout your annual report, the visuals you choose including images, fonts, illustrations and colours should reflect the sentiment of your report and business’ brand.

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