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. 

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