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Transform your annual report from bland… to brilliant

Red annual report with blue border and big headline and subheadline

Annual report.

Say these two words to almost anyone and they’ll instantly think of a stale yearly report printed on thick stacks of paper… while they try to suppress a big fat yawn!

But times are changing. And so can you.

Today, annual reports should be viewed as a powerful tool to engage stakeholders, showcase performance – and make a strong, lasting impression.

So when it’s ‘that time of year again’, approach it with drive rather than dread.

After all, it’s a prime opportunity to shine a spotlight on your organisation… and open new doors for the future.

To help, here are 6 ways you can transform your annual report from bland to brilliant.

1. Own your achievements (with the active voice)

Annual reports are all about showcasing your accomplishments.

And by writing in the active voice (rather than the passive voice), you will communicate with greater confidence, ownership and pride.

To write in the active voice, place your subject at the beginning of your sentence. Take these examples:

Passive voice

Active voice

Over 250 children were placed in
foster care this year.

We placed over 250 children in
foster care this year.

The strategic goals this year were
achieved by our management team.

Our management team achieved
this year’s strategic goals.

Staff were commemorated at
the awards night this year.

We commemorated our staff
at this year’s awards night.

Did you notice anything else about the sentences on the right? They’re also shorter, clearer and more direct, aren’t they?

That’s why the active voice is generally the better choice – whatever the platform, whoever the audience.

2. Create an experience

Try not to think of your annual report as a list of detailed facts and figures. Rather, think of it as a vehicle to share your organisation’s story over the past year.

And like any good tale, it should blend authenticity, clarity, consistency and context.

Here are some strategies to do just that:

  • Build a narrative that connects your mission, vision, initiatives and outcomes
  • Create an intuitive structure – with a beginning, middle and end
  • Opt for creative and engaging headlines to open each new section
  • Weave in quotes, stories and photos to personlise throughout
  • Use first-person language wherever possible (‘we’, ‘us’ and ‘our’)

3. Keep it concise – and consistent

Does your organisation ask multiple people across multiple departments to write different sections of your annual report?

If so, smart move. After all, who better to write about your financial achievements than your CFO? And who better to write about staff and professional development results than your HR Manager?

However, this approach also come with its pitfalls. Namely, repetition and overlap – as well as an inconsistent writing style throughout.

The result? A jumbled, boring and dry document that will do your brand more harm than good.

That’s why it’s critical to have a single person or department – such as Marketing & Communications – oversee and review every word of your annual report.

And if you don’t have anyone internally with the time and skills do it? A professional editor who understands your organisation is the way to go.

4. Spice up your statistics

When it comes to creating an engaging report, infographics are your best friend. Why? Because visually representing your data helps:

  • Cut down your words and waffle
  • Time-poor readers scan and understand key messages
  • Present your achievements more clearly and meaningfully
  • Inject more personality and a modern feel into your report

To get you started, here are 8 different types of infographs to consider:

1. Statistical: use to present survey results, data from multiple sources or to support an argument with relevant statistics.

2. Informational: use to communicate a new or specialised concept, or to give an overview of a topic.

3. Timeline: use to communicate the history of something, highlight important dates or give an overview of events.

4. Process: use to provide a summary or overview of the steps in a process.

5. Geographic: use to present location-based or demographic data, or compare data by region or demographic.

6. Comparison: use to compare options in an unbiased way or to make one option seem better.

7. Hierarchical: use to present information in a particular order (e.g. a pyramid).

8. List: use to share a set of tips, resources or examples (these use icons, creative fonts and colors to make basic bulleted lists more eye-catching).

5. Engage all your audiences

Your annual report will be read by a range of audiences – including staff, shareholders, partners and end customers. That’s why it’s important to acknowledge their different needs and priorities throughout.

So before you start writing, consider which sections will be most relevant to each audience. Then tailor your messages accordingly.

For example:

  • Clarify your goals, vision, values and high-level priorities in your opening addresses to get your management team and strategic partners excited about the future.
  • Highlight the importance of your people when summarising employee programs, promotions, events – and the appreciation and benefits that drive them.
  • Emphasise customer value by following the ‘WIIFM’ (What’s In It For Me?’) principle for sections your end customers will be most interested in. Once you draw out the value, you can integrate it throughout your content.

6. Go beyond paper and PDFs

Thanks to today’s technology, you have newer, more interesting ways to present your annual report – and create a lasting impression.

You can deliver it as:

To make your organisation’s next annual report a powerful and meaningful vehicle of communication, I’d love to help. Ask me about my annual report writing services today.