We all love stories. They can transport us to another world, teach us something new, and even change our perspectives on life. Stories hold a power that other mediums of communication cannot emulate.
Now, picture yourself at your office. You are in the large conference room, seats filled with your peers and leaders, listening as you go through in meticulous detail the wide array of statistics and data points you have spent months gathering. To you, it is a no-brainer that your recommendation is the right path forward; the numbers should speak for themselves.
However, as your presentation comes to a close, the reaction is nowhere near the level of alignment you were expecting. What happened? Well, in a world of instant communication and distractions, the room only absorbed bits and pieces of the information you walked through. Each person in that room had 5, 10…25 other things on their mind, and numbers on a slide were not enough to capture their attention.
There is no doubt that data is the future. The key is getting the right people to listen, and what better way to capture the attention of a room than with a story?
Data Visualization: Crafting a Data-Driven Tale
Data visualization is the art of transforming data into images and charts that decision-makers can easily understand. It is a powerful tool that can unlock large amounts of overwhelming data in an engaging and memorable way.
How is that done effectively? There are many parallels between traditional storytelling and data storytelling. Both involve characters, setting, conflict, and resolution. Both also use plot twists and suspense to keep the audience engaged.
Like any good story, a data story should have a beginning, middle, and end.
The beginning should introduce the characters and the setting, the middle should develop the conflict, and the end should provide a resolution.
The most important part would be the protagonist: your customers or clients. The protagonists of a data story are the data itself. The data is the hero of the story, and the data analyst is the storyteller.
Uncovering the Story
Sounds exciting, right? As with any book you’ve read, behind every well-crafted and engaging story is an author who spent months, even years, crafting that novel. The case is not much
different here. Although we hope it does not take YEARS, it is on you as the storyteller to gather and clean the data so it can eventually become that engaging and impactful narrative.
I want to focus on the steps between the data cleansing and the visualization rather than taking time to go through the data-gathering process. As an individual responsible for digging through this data, you must see yourself as a ‘boots on the ground’ news reporter or even a detective on the case. There are past decisions and historical context to the data that you are looking at, and it will take conversations with decision-makers and peers to uncover the truth and start unraveling the story of how the numbers came to be.
As you clean the data and lead these conversations, the veil of mystery shrouding the numbers will gradually dissipate. You’ll see the paths from the past and signs towards a brighter future. That’s great! However, it is crucial to remember that this is only happening within your own mind. The natural question is – how do I get others to understand this picture in my head more quickly and efficiently? Well, that’s a great question; the answer is…data visualization!
Visualizing the Facts
How you visualize data can have a significant impact on how people understand it and how they feel about it. Some visualizations are better at communicating certain types of insights than others. For example, bar charts are good for comparing values, while line charts are good for showing trends over time.
When choosing visualizations, it is important to consider the audience. What are they interested in? What do they need to know? The goal of your story is to be clear, concise, and persuasive. If you choose visualizations that overwhelm or confuse the audience, the story is hard to deliver. So, focus on finding the right way to convey the message you want the audience to receive.
Showing Historical Significance & Creating Emotional Connection
Data stories can also create an emotional connection with the audience. This can be done by showing the historical significance of the data or by embedding relatable anecdotes. When the audience can connect with the data, they can understand it better.
An excellent example of this could be seen in the creation of personas based on actual data from the company’s customer information. Creating a persona is a powerful way to understand a core audience or specific user that, by targeting appropriately, can help a company meet growth goals. Putting a face, personality, interests, and habits to the otherwise vague group of customers can give an employee or the company drive to meet that customer or user where they are.
Measuring Success: Impactful Stories in Action
How do you know if your data story is successful? There are a few metrics that you can use to measure the impact of your story:
· Engagement: How many people read your story? How long did they spend reading it? During the presentation, were people paying attention and asking questions?
· Understanding: Did people understand the key insights that you were trying to communicate? Pay attention to the questions being asked. Do they dig deeper into the insights you’ve tried to provide or ask you to repeat what you thought you were presenting?
· Action: Did people take any action because of reading your story? Can people take action from the insights you provided? If the data you present doesn’t take the team forward, was it doing its job?
Embracing the Art of Data Storytelling
Data storytelling is an art form still in its early stages of development. But as businesses become more data-driven, the demand for data storytellers will only grow.
To be a data storyteller, you must have a strong understanding of data visualization and storytelling techniques. You also need to be able to think creatively and come up with new and innovative ways to tell stories with data.
The undeniable power of storytelling in data presentation is that it can captivate, educate, and leave a lasting impression on the audience. Data storytelling can help businesses make better decisions, improve communication, and connect with customers more deeply.
I hope this article has given you a better understanding of data storytelling. If you want to learn more, I encourage you to research the topic and experiment with different storytelling techniques.