Tamsen Haught - Mar 24, 2014

Effective Storytelling for Data Visualizations

We recently discussed the Top Trends in Business Intelligence for 2014, now I want to spend time on my favorite topic, Storytelling.  Have you ever spent hours creating beautiful, insightful data visualizations yet when you shared this dashboard with your staff or board, you get blank stares?   If this has happened to you, chances are your audience lacks the context for what you are presenting. Data Storytelling

Here are a few methods you can use to avoid those blank stares.

  1. Start with the end in mind.  Mystery authors know who the killer is before they even make it past the first page.   By knowing the end, they find a logical path to take the reader so the ending will make sense.  Determine the main points you want to convey in your dashboard in order to take your audience down the path with you.
  2. Warm up your audience.  Most TV shows start with a “previously on” segment.  It lets the audience know what relevant information happened on previous episodes so the viewer is ready to dive straight into the show.  When you are presenting data visualizations, think of all the time you spent preparing those visualizations as previous episodes.  Come up with a quick 2 minute “previously on” explanation so your audience is primed and ready for the information you are presenting.
  3. Anticipate questions.  If you have presented to these individuals before, you probably know what questions they are likely to have.  Think about these questions beforehand and make sure you provide information proactively so their questions are answered as you are presenting.
  4. Where’s my plot?  Every story has a beginning, middle and end.  The middle has the real meat of the story and prepares the audience for a big finish.  What information do people need in order to understand your conclusion?
  5. Keep it short.  I have seen many movies that are more than two hours long and usually I can find 20-30 minutes that could have been cut.  Everyone’s time is precious, so cut out the extraneous material.  Ask yourself the question, “So what?” about your plot points.  If it is not going to help them understand the data, then cut it.
  6. Face to Face matters.  We often over-rely on email.  Stories are best told face-to-face.  Sit down with your audience and tell your data story.  The stories we hear are easier to understand and to remember.
  7. Provide a sneak peak to your next book.  Sometimes your data has a sad story to tell you, and your association needs to know it.   However, don’t end on the bad news bombshell.  Knowing the bad news is a good thing.   Figure out the first chapter of your next story and discuss with your audience how you can work together to use data to write a happier ending.

Your data is telling a story, you just need to make sure you are not the only one who knows how to understand it.

Written by Tamsen Haught