Data Storytelling

How to maximize the impact of your Data Story?

Woitek Szymankiewicz, Closer Consulting

Stories. You probably have already heard that using stories in presentations is important, right? That you should use them in your written communications and in your speeches, especially when trying to influence somebody. No matter if you are communicating with your customers, your team, your boss or your child. If you want to connect with your audience, a story is a great way of doing it.

Many studies have measured the real impact of stories. A Stanford study showed that when you communicate through stories, people are 63% more likely to remember what you said when compared with pure statistical data. Another one states that your persuasion power goes up 246%. This was measured by comparing amounts of donations received.

John Allen Paulos, an American mathematician, noted that “in listening to stories, we tend to suspend disbelief in order to be entertained, whereas in evaluating statistics we generally have an opposite inclination to suspend belief in order not to be beguiled.”

Data Storytelling has been associated with things like appealing data visualizations, infographics, dashboards, among others.

Data Storytelling is too often interpreted as just visualizing data effectively. However, that is only part of it. Data Storytelling is much more than just creating visually-appealing data charts.

The concept of storytelling was formalized by Joseph Campbell, who has noticed that all stories share the same pattern. The so-called “the hero’s journey.” He discovered that every good story includes a hero, a challenge, some unexpected events, enemies, allies and a final resolution. It’s easy to imagine a prince on a white horse courageously fighting off monsters to safe the princess and to live happily forever. But how do you actually apply this concept to your presentation about product sales, collaborators’ engagement or KPIs about your operational productivity?

Who is the hero? What is the challenging situation? How to incorporate surprises? You might say it’s just numbers. Well, it really depends on the way you arrange your information and how you look at it. In fact, if you start asking those questions, you are already in a very good position to draw out a good story about your data. Here is an approach you might use:

First, you need to provide a context that the ordinary world, your audience, can connect to.

Second, identify your hero. It is the object of interest in your data that you want to communicate. It might be the growth of Product A that starts to take off after the successful launch or change in your sales strategy. 

Third, make the challenge stand out and clear for everyone. It might be the time frame, the competition, a specific digital transformation initiative, etc. In general, it is something that had forced you or will require you to make a change.

Finally, end with a resolution. That is the key message you want your audience to stick with. Your call to action. Your aha moment.

You might have noticed that until now, we haven’t talked about Data Visualization yet. We created a narrative for our presentation, which is the secret ingredient every data story should have. Combine your narrative with the right visuals and the right data and you have a data story that can influence and drive change more effectively and quickly.

Of course, here there are as well many best practices you might want to consider following in order to communicate effectively. What should be the overall arrangement of the dashboard or infographic? How to choose the right visual for your data? What choice of color and font size is best? Should I show evolutions or positions? And many more.  In theory, you have 20 KPIs mount up to millions of choices. Creating beautiful dashboards that present data in the most efficient and effective way has been one of Closer´s fields of expertise. If you need some assistance in this field, we will be glad to share our experience with you. Feel free to contact us.

Your Data Storytelling’s Summary:

  1. Set up a story, ask yourself: what do you want your audience to learn, to do or to realize? Who is my hero? Where is the changing, challenging part of my data? Any surprises?
  2. Know your audience: what are their goals, interests? What kind of language do they use? How proficient are they on the subject?
  3. Provide context: compare data to peers. Show evolution of the metrics over time. Remember, numbers without context mean nothing.
  4. Be clear and concise: remove everything that is not part of your story. Save the other bits for another occasion.
  5. Use good visuals: People better understand metrics, trends, and patterns with visuals. Use words to add your voice to the data. Titles are a great place to use words.
  6. Be honest & credible: always respect the truth when presenting data. Don´t omit parts that distort the truth.
  7. End with an insight: if the audience cannot learn something useful and valuable from the data, the story isn’t worth telling.



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