Our Top Five Tips For Telling Stories With Data

Sandra Namatovu our consultant managing the role
Posting date: 9/6/2018 8:54 AM
As the Data & Analytics marketplace continues to grow, what is it that makes a candidate stand out? More and more, employers are on the lookout for people with both hard and soft skills; those who cannot only interpret data, but possess the ability to translate and relay that data to key stakeholders. 

To convey data in a cohesive, informative, and memorable way, we need to think beyond making something aesthetically pleasing. People connect with stories, be they fictional, personal, historical or otherwise. By utilising universal storytelling techniques, we can share data in a way that people intuitively connect with. 

Here are our Top Five Tips for telling stories with data:

Start With The Structure 


Structures are the essential foundations that sit under any good story. Without a solid structure, the story we are telling can become confusing, distracting and unfocused. When presenting data, it is essential that we work to a clear structure to ensure that we can be understood. 

All stories feature three things; a beginning, a middle, and an end. A story told through data is no different:

  • The Beginning: What is the question that has been asked? What are we trying to learn from this information?
  • The Middle: The Data itself. What the numbers say.
  • The End: What insights can we gain from the data, what is the data really telling us?

By sticking to this structure, we can ensure that each bit of information gathered is explained with the relevant context required to convey the most information possible. 

When looking at several pieces of data, it makes sense to think of these as chapters. They may tell their own smaller story, but in the wider context of an overall narrative, they need to be in the correct order to make sense and not leave anyone confused. 

Speak To Your Audience


When presenting data, it is crucial to remember who your audience is. Whey they’re a novice, expert, or the chairman of your company, each individual has their own vested interested in what you are showing them. As a Data and Analytics professional, your job is to serve as curator, creating a story that feels tailored to each unique person. 

In order to help understand how your audience might be best served by your story, it’s helpful to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What information are the most interesting in?
  • What information do they need to know the most?
  • What is their daily routine? 
  • Is this their big meeting of the day, or one of several back-to-back?
  • What actions will they take off the back of your insights?

By asking these questions, you should be able to curate your data in a way that is meaningful for your audience. 

Find Your Characters


The majority of data is based upon an initial human interaction. From a video viewed, to a product purchased, it’s easy to forget that at the end of the line is a real human being. By bringing this to the forefront of your insights you create a compelling new way to connect with your audience.

Consider what this data actually meant when it was first gathered; who was that person and what does this information say about them? If you are able to create ‘personas’ or ‘characters’ from this data, you can present something tangible that people can connect and, potentially, even empathise with. 

Even if you use existing data to reference a personal experience, you’re adding a sense of palpability that gives your insights depth. 

Painting The Right Picture 


As Data Visualisers will tell you, the most elaborate visual is not always the most appropriate way to convey your insights. The key is to always consider what tells the story best. A heat map may be perfect for telling a story of geographical differences but is likely to make no sense when conveying a customer journey. 

The beauty of utilising different visual techniques is that they allow you to create an emotional impact with data, fully emphasising the meaning of your insights. David McCandless showcases how data can be visualised in various dynamic ways that create the most amount of meaning possible. 

Start Big, Get Smaller


Data presentations have the difficult challenge of needing to be both accessible and detailed. By ensuring that you have the big picture covered with enough context, you can ensure that everyone gets the headline takeaway. 

Following this, you can highlight further insights that reveal more information for those who need to do a deeper dive. Much like in a good story, whilst you may understand the overall narrative the first time round, looking closer and revisiting certain parts should reveal more insights and nuances. 

If you have the skills to turn Data & Analytics insights into compelling stories then we may have a role for you. Register with us or search the hundreds of jobs available on our site. 

Related blog & news

With over 10 years experience working solely in the Data & Analytics sector our consultants are able to offer detailed insights into the industry.

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The Harnham 2019 Data & Analytics Salary Guide Is Here

We are thrilled to announce the launch of our 2019 UK, US and European Salary Guides. With over 3,000 respondents globally, this year’s guides are our largest and most insightful yet.  Looking at your responses, it is overwhelmingly clear that the Data & Analytics industry is continuing to thrive. This has led to an incredibly active market with 77% of respondents in the UK and Europe, and 72% in the US, willing to leave their role for the right opportunity.  Salary expectations remain high, although we’re seeing that candidates often expect 2-10% more than they actually achieve when moving between roles.  Globally, we’ve also seen a change in the reasons people give for leaving a position, with a lack of career progression overtaking an uncompetitive salary as the main reason for seeking a change.   There also remains plenty of room for industry improvement when looking at gender parity; the UK market is only 25% female and this falls to 23% in the US and 21% across the rest of Europe.  In addition to our findings, the guides also include insights into a variety of markets and recommendations for both those hiring, and those seeking a new role.  You can download your copies of the UK, US and European guides here.

A Q&A With Dyson’s Data Governance CDO

A Q&A With Dyson’s Data Governance CDO

Mridul Mathur is a skilled Senior Program Director with more than 15 years of experience working in businesses from Deutschebak to Dyson. He has a proven track record of successfully delivering large and complex cross-functional programs and building high performing teams from scratch. In last five years the main focus of his work has been in the area of Data Management to address the issues and challenges organisations have faced in the wake of various new regulations. Data Management and Data Governance are hot topics at the moment. Do you feel that attitudes have changed towards the fields since the beginning of your career? It’s been a very big shift. Going back to my involvement at Deutsche Bank around 2007, we were managing Data purely because we needed to create a Credit Risk position so that we could explain to the Bank of England and other regulators what we were doing. We didn’t really look beyond that.  But now, if you look at the industry, we want to use Data to not only calculate our Risk position but to derive value out of that Data.  It's something that can give a company a competitive advantage  one of those things that can significantly change a business. I personally feel that the turning point, not just for Deutsche Bank but for everybody was the market crash that happened in 2008.  A lot of the company did not have Data Management skills, or the ability to bring the Data together to understand exposures. Those who had exposure against Lehman, for example, could not recover any of the money they lost. That was the big turning point for all of them, when they actually lost hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of revenue and loans overnight. They didn’t have the right Data, in the right place, and it cost them. What major issues do you see successful Data Governance facing over the next 12 months? I think we're still going through a phase of understanding and internalizing the issue. By that I mean that we understand that our Data is important and how it can help us not only manage Risk but create value. But, when it comes to actually applying it, we are hamstrung by two things:  One is that we haven't quite grasped the ways in which we can internalise that Data. We understand the value but the actual application is not really out there currently. Secondly, I think that in some places, we have too much activity. I've been in places where there have been competing Data agendas and competing Data Governance ideas. When people are not taking their organisational view and just looking to get ahead, it’s hard to achieve any real success.  If you were advising a company about to commence on a large Data Management transformation project, what advice would you give them? This links to the previous point really, and it’s a bigger issue in large companies. You need to have a business approach to Data Governance, as well as the IP capabilities to deal with a project of that scale. And what you find sometimes is that multiple groups get together and they each have a different view of what good looks like. They end up not communicating throughout the organisation and properly aligning everybody’s roles and responsibilities. These different agendas then end up causing issues because everyone has a different idea of what they want.  We need to be able to plan across the organization to get the right agenda and get the right properties in place. Then you can start the work, as opposed to each team just working where they think the biggest problem lies first.  What would you say are the biggest threats to a successful Data Management program? Obviously the above is one, but it leads to another which is really the lack of Senior Management sponsorship. If you don’t get the right level of sponsorship, then you don’t get the mandate to do what you need. This can cause huge delays and is definitely one of the biggest threats to your program being a success.  In finance, you worked within a highly regulated industry. How have your approaches changed now that you’re in a highly innovative, tech-driven environment? The approach is different. We do have challenges that others don't, but over and above, because we innovate and create things, there is an abundance of new information. Information protection and intellectual property protection is therefore at the top of the agenda. That drives the need for effective Data Governance and it really has to be at the forefront of the approach.  Data breaches have caused widespread reputational damage to companies such as Facebook and Yahoo. Have you found that companies now view Data protection as central to their commercial performance? Absolutely. People realize that they not only need Data to do their business, but they also need to protect that Data. These breaches have resulted in a greater importance being given to this function and every year I see it moving closer to the center of the organisation. There are very few large organisations left that haven’t recognized Data Protection as one of their formal functions. A lot of companies are now looking to build out their Data Protection teams from the ground up, starting with lower levels of analysts, but also management as well. It’s becoming a much greater priority and these big breaches are one of the driving factors.  What do you feel will be the most effective technical advancement within Data Management in 2019? I think, from a technological perspective, we still have some way to go with digital rights management. There’s now one or two solutions that are supposed to be at Enterprise level, but they’re not enough and they’re still not joining the digital rights management side of things with the Big Data Loss Prevention side.  So companies are having to rely on seeing this together with a combination of plugin software and various tools and technology. It’s sticking around the edges of the edges of a fix, but it’s not actually doing the job. I'd like to see these technologies develop because I think we're crying for some help in this area.  What is the biggest risk to their Data that businesses should be aware of? Not knowing where to get hold of Data. It is just mind boggling to me, that there has not been a single company that I have been a part of where we started a program and we knew where to get all our Data from. Obviously we knew where most of it was,  but we didn’t know where else it was and that what we were looking at was a comprehensive set of maps. It just continues to be the same at every business I have worked at.   What role does data governance have to play in protecting a business’ intellectual property? It plays a huge role. Firstly, a company needs to be very clear on their Data policies. This means regularly training teams on the importance of this, much like you would with health and safety. By clearly defining and educating people on the dos and don’ts of data handling you can better protect your intellectual property. I think getting the policy framework right and implementing it using digital rights management is crucial and good Data Governance relies on this.  When hiring for your teams, which traits or skills do you look for in candidates? There are two key parts; one is technical and the other non-technical. In my mind, it’s less about the technical because, ultimately, I just want someone who knows how to use ‘technology x’. They need to be able to make use of Data from a database, or be able to spot Data in an unstructured environment. But, for me, the most important skill is more of a characteristic: tenacity. I use the word tenacity because you have to put yourself out there. You have to ask people questions and you have to educate them. You can’t assume that people just understand Data you’re presenting them and you have to become their friends and learn to speak their language. It also really brings in the skill of being able to work with teams and across teams. Being a team player would absolutely be top of my list. Mridul spoke to Femi Akintoye, a Recruitment Consultant in our Data & Technology function. Take a look at our latest roles or get in touch with Femi.

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