Massaging data into a compelling story is key to onboarding clients, securing investors, and training employees...

In the digital economy, data is mana. It’s the fuel that keeps the tech and marketing sectors churning. But when using data as a sales or education tool, plain old stats and facts just aren’t enough. Massaging data into a compelling story is key to onboarding clients, securing investors, and training employees.

Human brains are wired for stories. As evidence, a Stanford Business School study revealed that 62% of participants remembered stories while only five percent remembered straight statistics. That’s an immense difference, and the results should have every business asking: How can we transform our data into engaging narratives that sell, convince, and teach?

What is Data Storytelling?

Without framing, data can come across as flat, bland, and vulnerable to interpretation. Businesses wanting to burnish their brands in the brains of target audiences must carefully craft their messaging and bolster it with supporting data.

Why is Storytelling So Effective?

Storytelling is how cave people evolved into modern individuals. It’s a linguistic tradition hard coded into our DNA; it’s how civilizations passed down survival skills and traditions. Storytelling remains an integral part of how we process and retain information.

Read more: Data Storytelling: The Essential Skill for the Future of Analytics

What is the Goal of Storytelling?

The goal of data storytelling is to engage audiences. You can highlight insights that will stick, convince, and stimulate the desired action by packaging narratives in digestible and engaging bites of information.

As a presenter, your job is to focus people’s attention on the most salient and engaging points. Think of yourself as the Degas of data — someone who paints beautiful pictures using stats and trends. By framing the mundane in gilded casings, you’re heightening the audience’s emotional response, which leads to better retention of the material.

Three Steps of Effective Data Storytelling

We’ve discussed why data storytelling works. Now let’s dig into the “how” of the matter.

Become Intimate With the Data

Before crafting data stories, familiarize yourself with the information. Don’t manipulate the data to suit your needs. People instinctively pick up on phony or inflated stats — and that diminishes trust. Instead, become intimate with the facts and figures and find the actual statistical trends hidden within. They’re more impactful than jerry-rigged half-truths.

Understand Your Audience

The next step is getting to know your audience. What makes them tick? What do they care about? What’s their worldview? How does your data connect to their goals? The answers to these questions will shape a story that connects with your targets emotionally. Once you tap into their zeitgeists, you can more readily sell the vision.

Remember that one size does not fit all when it comes to data narratives. The tale you tell to a room full of mid-level managers will differ from the one you tell executives.

Choosing the Right Data and Presentation Style

Visuals matter — a lot. They help clarify, connect, compare, and provide context. Effective visualizations include information about the most compelling data as well as highlight the best parts. While it’s almost always better to have professionals design presentations, here are a few DIY pointers:

  • Comparisons: If you want to highlight comparisons, use bar, line, and circular charts.
  • Composition Statistics: Showing data composition statistics is best done with pie charts.
  • Distribution of Data: Line distribution charts work for displaying data distribution points and trends.
  • KISS: When creating charts and graphs, adhere to the adage “keep it simple, silly.” Leave the 3D renderings and drop shadows to game developers. They only mess up business presentation aesthetics and may come across as outdated.
  • Color Consciousness: Data presentations are not the time to express your inner Rainbow Brite! Choose a pleasant color palette and use complementary colors; they’re easier to understand at a glance than a hodge-podge of hues.
  • Language: Use words and phrases that your audience understands. Don’t try to “sound smart.” It never works and can reflect a lack of confidence and communication.
  • Layout: Each slide should have a call to action, a header, and a short narrative summary. People’s attention wanders during presentations. Combat this by keeping things clear and concise!

Crafting effective data narratives that speak to people’s desires and emotions is a skill that takes time to develop. Professionals understand how to mold micro and macro elements into engaging stories. It’s no question that data storytelling is an invaluable tool. And when done correctly, profits follow.

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