Storytelling is easy because it’s a habit or skill we have acquired as time went by. Everybody does it. It’s when we share almost everything about our days around the dinner table. It’s also when we tell our friends about the funny things we saw other people do. But data storytelling sounds a little intimidating to other people, although it isn’t much different from storytelling. Below in this article, we will cover the All You Need to Know About Data Storytelling.
Data has stories, and it’s essential to tell an effective one. In many industries, one should be able to tell a data story effectively. The important part is to deliver an effective and engaging story. And then harness the same skills we use at the dinner table and during meetups with friends.
What is Data Storytelling?
When talking about data storytelling, people usually think about visualizations. Others think that an effective data story involves some charts. Little do they know that it still needs characters and a narrative. They are correct with the maps and graphs, but that’s only one piece. An effective data story involves gathering up all sorts of small data points and providing meaningful context around them.
The most convincing stories are those that inform, persuade, and engage the audience by combining analytics, data, point of view, and real people. This will give the audience a call to action that doesn’t only outline the next steps but also inspires the audience to take it. This brings us to James Richardson, Research Director at Gartner.
“A data story starts like any other story”, James Richardson said. It has a beginning and a middle. He also said that the end of the story should never be a fixed event, but rather, a set of questions or options to trigger an action from the audience. Ultimately, the goal of data storytelling is to energize and encourage critical thinking for business decisions.
So, what’s the trick in delivering a good data story? It’s simple. There is no trick. All you need to do is just do it. This is how you can improve yourself in telling a story. But if you want your story to be on the right track, then you should give people a framework. There is nothing more human than storytelling. But if you’re one of those who find it hard to get started, remember to follow the guidelines below.
Tips for an Effective Data Storytelling
1. As the data storyteller, you need to understand the context.
The value of data comes from what your audience does with it. The audience should transform it from raw numbers into other shapes and formats. You can achieve this through an understanding of the context. Always ask the following questions before you start.
- Who needs to hear the data story to take action?
- What is the goal of the data story?
- How will you make your point?
2. You need to talk to your audience.
You should start identifying who you’ll share the main indicators or data with. Which organization do they belong to? What is their position within that organization? What are their main interests? Lastly, do they have the authority to act?
3. You should know how to choose your charts.
There’s a wide variety of charts you can choose from, and choosing one can impact your data story. If you make complicated graphics that require tons of explanations, then you’ll lose your audience’s interest. Try to show one of the four things below:
- Comparison – when you want to compare two or more variables. Illustrate how the variables interact. Use a bar chart for this.
- Relationship – when you focus on showing a correlation between two or more variables. Use a bar chart for this.
- Distribution – when you want to lay related or unrelated information out to see how they correlate. Use a vertical bar chart for this.
- Composition – when you collect different types of information to make up a whole and then display them together. Use a stacked bar chart for this.
4. You should think like a designer.
To reach your goal, your data story should be effective. And you can achieve that if the presentation of the data fits the context and audience. The easier they understand it, the better. Here’s how:
- Eliminate the clutter. Identify which information doesn’t add value to justify its presence. Once you have identified it, remove it from the data story. Be smart about how you use your audience’s brainpower. Remember, any visual element that takes up space but doesn’t increase their understanding is considered clutter.
- Create a visual hierarchy. Try to use pre-attentive attributes like color, size, and position in your design. This will help you create a visual hierarchy of elements to lead your audience through the information. For example, display an important number in a large font, or use the color red to represent the most important bar in a bar chart.
5. Most importantly, you should learn how to tell the story.
Stories can bring facts to life. Your audience will hear facts if you present them. But they will never remember them if you don’t contextualize them within a narrative. When you read straight data, you only activate the language part of the brain to decode the meaning. But when you read a story, you activate any other part of the brain that you use when you experience what you’re reading. This only means that it’s easier to remember stories than hard facts. Here’s how you should tell the story:
- Structure the story. Are you telling a story, or are you only making a point? An effective data story starts with a question. It builds tension and then answers with a call to action to answer the question. Set the scene and get to the story’s climax. At this point, you already answered the question, and the audience would feel obliged to take action.
- Add emotions. We are driven by emotions. Stating facts alone isn’t enough to influence decision making or change the behavior of the audience. Does your story have an emotional appeal? Does your story provoke a heartfelt response and make them think that they need to take action?
This is just a brief introduction to the world of data storytelling. If you want to learn more, go check out StoryIQ.