In our increasingly data-driven world, business professionals find themselves daily immersed in data. That reality has placed priority status on determining the best ways to clearly and impactfully communicate this wealth of information.

“Data is everywhere, but it’s what we do with that data, what insights we tap into that make it so valuable. And that is essentially why data storytelling is so important,” states Katy French. “Data storytelling is the blending of two worlds: hard data and human communication. It’s a compelling narrative crafted around and anchored by compelling data.”

What does “tell a story with data” mean?

“Data is just a collection of numbers until you turn it into a story,” reminds Nicole Martin, owner of NR Digital Consulting and host of the Talk Digital To Me Podcast. “Showing reports and dashboards can be overwhelming without adding a narrative to the data. Any great insight explains what happened, why it is important and how you can use it to turn it into something actionable.”

Martin suggests a great data-driven story can drive better decision making within an organization as well as drive customer conversions. Lead generation and customer retention get a boost as well when data visualization combines with story to make key observations about customers and their wants.

Why not just stick to the numbers? Why bother with a story?

Even with colorful charts and creative graphics, your audience may find themselves swimming in large amounts of data. Their best chance at grasping the key points hinges on a guided experience. Just as the telling of an actual story carefully knits the plot points together, a storytelling approach to sharing data connects the individual pieces of a visual data presentation into a complete account.

Storytelling works especially well when the points unfold in chronological order, including a variety of components and the presentation is a combination of a broad overview and the fine-print details.

While not always a believer, Nick Mannon, Director of Data Solutions at Blast Analytics & Marketing, is now thoroughly sold on data visualization that utilizes story. He used to pat himself on the back, surmising, “Why would I need this? My visualizations speak for themselves. I let the data do the talking.” He’s since realized that storytelling and data visualizations don’t have to be one or the other. Rather, they support one another, strengthening insights and driving the action the data is proclaiming.

What changed his mind? A session led by Brent Dykes titled, “Once Upon An Insight: How to tell a better story with data,” which showed how you could use data to build a persuasive story which ensures the audience grasps the insights and takes action.

Why storytelling is effective

Mannon shares two convincing key points on the effectiveness of story in data visualization:

  1. Data isn’t as memorable as stories. Only 5% remember statistics, whereas 63% remember the story.
  2. Stories are more persuasive than statistics, persuading twice as much compared to statistics alone.

Mannon continues, “When you focus on data, your left brain (the logical side) is engaged, but a story will engage both the left brain and the right brain (intuitive, thoughtful). In addition, stories build a connection to the audience, increasing attention and empathy. And ultimately, stories open the audience to change, which is often the goal of your presentation.”

For tips and insights, workshops, podcasts, and a monthly SWD (Storytelling with Data) Challenge from the storytelling guru, visit Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic’s site.

And check back next time for Data Visualization – Part 3, for more insights on how to use storytelling to increase the effectiveness of your data presentations.

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