What Story Is Your Data Telling?
For those of us responsible for disseminating research and data analysis, “storytelling” has become a commonly heard boardroom buzzword.
That’s because we all think of ourselves as innate storytellers. In fact, we have the presentation decks to prove it.
Unfortunately, we’re not all natural born storytellers – especially those of us immersed in the world of data and analytics. And many organizations have the presentation decks sitting on a shelf collecting dust to prove it.
That’s because, as analysts, we’re naturally wired to gather all of the data we possibly can on a particular topic or subject. But most of us fail to recognize that no one cares how much insight you’ve collected when they can’t clearly see what they need to do about it. That’s the point of storytelling – presenting data within a framework that resonates with your audience and inspires them to act on it.
The biggest misnomer many data analysts make is that data storytelling is synonymous with presentation skills. So we spend plenty of time teaching ourselves how to design charts and graphs that are easy to understand. But even if you’ve distilled all of this information into the best charts and graphs in the history of Powerpoint, data visualization is only one part of data storytelling. (I delve into the three components to effective storytelling in this article.)
If you haven’t clearly defined the story behind the data you’ve collected, it doesn’t matter how those charts and graphs look. No one will care about the data presented if the person at the receiving end isn’t passionate enough about it to move it through the organization or to make a decision that drives the business.
Simply stated, while visualization tools are great for making information more accessible, storytelling is what makes it actionable.
Data visualization without storytelling is like receiving a list of ingredients but having no idea what you’re making for dinner. The result is left up to individual interpretation. You might end up with a loaf of bread – or a cake.
As analytics becomes more sophisticated, we’re able to collect and share a seriously impressive amount of data, and organizations in all sectors are becoming increasingly reliant on data to make decisions. And yet we aren’t spending nearly enough time ensuring that we’re explaining why others within the organization should care about the data we’ve uncovered and, most importantly, how they can use that data.
Data storytelling is the last mile between data and action. It’s critical to ensuring everyone is on the same page.
So the next time you’re asked to present data you’ve collected, instead of concentrating on how to make that data accessible through charts and graphs – spend time defining the story you’re trying to tell. It’s through story that we inspire each other – and it’s also how we make the data you’ve collected memorable.