How to effectively tell a story with data

by Josh Biggs in Tech on 23rd January 2023
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To make sound decisions, businesses rely on quality information. Understanding data and then translating it into meaningful insights is equally important because the way you communicate information is crucial. But if you are not connecting your audience with the data, there will not be much motivation to act on those insights. 

Data storytelling can help you communicate insights compellingly and clearly and so inspire action and drive change. The tips and insights shared here will help you craft compelling stories with data to motivate, persuade, and inspire.

Understanding data storytelling

Data storytelling is an effective way to utilize data to create new actions, decisions, and knowledge. This integrative practice incorporates skills and knowledge from various disciplines, such as design, analysis, and communication. The practice is used in many industries to address several challenges. Marketers are familiar with storytelling; with data storytelling, data takes center stage in the story. It explains the data presented clearly and why it is important. 

Importance of data storytelling 

To spot patterns and gain insights, it is important to use quality data. Data can influence the way people perceive a certain topic. For those who aim to tell these stories, there are a lot of responsibilities. Data and numbers need to be put into context to ensure that others understand. Good data storytelling helps make sense of the numbers. Using visuals is an excellent way to do this. Visuals allow people to grasp key insights and remember them over time easily and quickly.

How to craft compelling data stories 

Data storytelling is a required skill for many data analyst jobs today. An online master’s in computer science for non-cs majors from Baylor University, for example, can help you gain the skills to analyze data as well as communicate insights effectively, skills that will help you stand out from other analysts. The program can prepare you for the demands of the profession. Here are a few helpful tips to craft compelling stories with data.

Find insights within the data 

Before you can begin to craft a data story, you must determine what insights can be found within the data. A causal or correlation link in any dataset will provide interesting insights to inform a meaningful narrative. Start at this point and build a story that can then be communicated to a large, diverse audience. 

Think of your audience 

Think about to whom this story needs to be conveyed and their backgrounds. This will help you determine the components your audience will be interested in and the technical complexity that you should aim for. Executive teams may be more interested in the implications on the business. On the other hand, statistical aspects may be more important when presenting the story to a data science team.

Determine which data points are important 

When crafting a data story, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data you have on hand. Businesses today collect a large amount of information so it may be challenging to decide which datasets are relevant for the narrative. Start by determining which data is relevant to the topic you want to explore. If you are crafting a story about customer experience, for example, focus on customer feedback, sales data, and product usage data. This will ensure that the audience will not be distracted by irrelevant information.  

Analyze and find insights 

Once you have identified the most relevant data points for your story, the next step in the process is to perform an analysis so you can find meaningful insights. There may be a correlation between datasets or a dip or spike in certain activities that may have to be understood. Uncovering these patterns and relationships is important to create a general theme for the story. Drill down to find these valuable insights and extract them. 

Identify data visualization techniques 

Data visualization is an effective way to ensure that your audience understands the data you are presenting. There are several different types of data visualization techniques to choose from. Compare them to find one that can represent your data in the best way. If you want to show a trend, for example, you may want to use a chart that can include information about time series. 

Provide context

On its own, data is not capable of telling a compelling story. A good storyteller knows how to make the data understandable and how to craft the right narrative. It is important to weave data insights and context together. Providing an overview of the findings at the beginning and following it with visualizations may not be enough. You must also frame your data insights with relevant information and business realities that your audience can relate to. There may be anomalies in the data due to external events or correlations due to something very industry-specific. Pointing out these insights provide context to make the data easier to understand.  

Structure your story

In storytelling, there is usually an introduction, the core story that discusses the problems, and a climax that provides an important insight or a solution to the problem. The story can then end with the resolution of the problem and retrospection. The flow of the story is also important in a data story. Think about the structure of the story that most people are familiar with. This will help you grab their attention and make it easier for them to understand the importance and relevance of the data story.  

Make the data story concise and clear 

With data storytelling, it is important to ensure that the story is concise and clean. Review the narrative multiple times to ensure that it is clear and edit it when needed. Effective data stories tend to be short. Avoid fluff that may distract from key insights so your audience will remain focused on what is important. 

Learning how to craft a compelling, insightful data story is a valuable skill that will serve you well during your career. 

Categories: Tech