Crafting Compelling Data Stories for Lasting Results

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Storytelling has been key to sharing the human experience since the beginning of time. It draws people and engages them in a memorable experience for them to preserve in their minds and draw conclusions.

With the rise of self-service BI, many users now can create compelling data visualizations, but how can they present them to others in a meaningful way? Perhaps, we could just show them. Or maybe there is a better way?

In one study researchers found that only 5% of participants remember an individual statistic compared to 63% who could recall the stories told. This is where data story telling steps in. Analysts around the world are conveying the information in their data and visualizations via story telling.

Truthfully, data cannot tell a story on it’s own. As the one doing the analysis, the onus is on you to convey the information so all parties understand what you are attempting to convey. To give you a hand, we have compiled a short guide to get you started, and hopefully blow away the people at your next data presentation.

Finding Your Angle

The first step to crafting a compelling data story is to find your narrative. Who are my characters? What is the plot? How about some challenges?

These are key pieces of information that will help outline your angle, which will compel the audience to want to hear more about your information.

The next step is to get your hands dirty with data and start broad! You can either start with focus questions to guide you or take an exploratory approach and let the conclusions drawn tell you where your story is going to go. Use an analytics software such as JReport that will enable you to look at the data from any angle with ease, and find your selling point!

Having a structured approach ensures you to not manipulate the data to support your pre-conceived beliefs.

Pictures are Worth a Thousand Words

Using a combination of visual aids and images will allow your narrative to come to life. But, the most important piece of the puzzle is the data visualizations– after all we’re telling data stories here. Business intelligence software is the go-to here as they come with a plethora of visualizations to wow everyone in the room.

You will need to consider the objectives of your presentation to craft a story through data visualizations. Are you comparing data? Maybe side-by-side or back-to-back charts work.

These are all important considerations, but we also want people to look at our visuals and derive insights right away as they follow our narrative. Use annotations to point out the key information or even explain what the chart is conveying.

Storyboard Your Way to Eloquence

Next, you will want to get your core story in place and storyboard the rest. Write out your objectives and frequently reference them to make sure you answered them. As you tell your story ensure that it is formatted in a problem-solution structure.

As you create this structure, this will allow you to feel out where the other elements fall into place– the characters, the visuals, and the challenges presented. The key focus should be coming up with a linear flow of information that describes to the audience how you got the various conclusions and what your audience can learn from it.

Know Who Your Audience Is

Knowing your audience can mean a world of difference in how you create structure in your narrative. Speaking to nontechnical persons can mean that you require in-depth explanations of the why’s in how you are presenting data such as:

  • Why use this visualization or chart specifically?
  • What data are the axes presenting?
  • Main goals and what you are analyzing (e.g., we are looking at product performance data)

This can help you build a common understanding and ensure that your audience understands the information completely. Of course if you know if you are presenting to technical persons who can extrapolate the basics, you can skip over.

There is no right way to tell a data story. It can be tricky and much of crafting a compelling data story revolves around mitigating circumstances such as, “who is my audience?” Having a plan of attack and ensuring you consider all the variables at hand will ensure that you delight your audience with a narrative that speaks for your data visualizations.

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