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Data Storytelling: The Art and Science of Telling a Story with Data

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The tendency to narrate stories and the ability to appreciate them is one of the things that sets humans apart from other beings. Stories are one of the easiest ways for humans to transfer ideas. So it’s no wonder organisations heavily use storytelling to convey ideas to their clients, partners, and other stakeholders to bring them to the same level of understanding of the data at hand.

Data storytelling is the process of telling a story with data and conveying the ideas they contain so they can be easily understood and interpreted by the target audience.

data storytelling

How to Make Sense of Data

Primary data analysis only helps businesses to find meaning in data. However, to put the data to the best use, their audience must also be able to make sense of it. That’s the job of data storytelling, which aims to present the data using a narrative that is easily recognisable and accepted by the audience.

Data storytelling has four key components:

  • Data

The primary component or the raw material for data storytelling is data itself. It is the data that you want to present to your audience so they will easily understand it.

  • Context

It is also essential for the data and its presentation to be relevant to the context. If the data doesn’t relate to the situation in question or the audience’s beliefs and past experiences, it will not help in data storytelling.

  • Visualisation

Data visualisation is an indispensable component used in analysing and interpreting data regardless of whether you want to tell a story. And it becomes even more important in storytelling. Visualisation helps you present data in an understandable format using visual elements such as charts, pictures, graphs, and other design elements.

  • Narrative

Data visualisation alone cannot achieve good data storytelling. The narrative is the most critical component that transforms simple data presentation into data storytelling. This is where you present data in the form of a story, making it exciting and easy to understand for your audience.

Why Is It Important for Companies to Tell a Story with Data?

Today’s world, especially the realm of business, is inundated with data, leading to the coining of the term “Big Data”. Unlike years gone by, when data was less substantial and therefore less significant, today many businesses struggle to handle the massive volumes of data at their fingertips. And since failure to correctly analyse data can lead to failure in business, many organisations rely on state-of-the-art techniques and the latest science to make sense of data.

However, data analytics and data sciences are primarily designed to help businesses, and that’s only half of the story. For companies to succeed in business, their customers and other stakeholders also need to understand the implications of various types of data. However, most audiences lack the technical skills to analyse, interpret, or make sense of complex data. That’s where it becomes essential to tell a story with data.

With data storytelling, companies can present the most crucial data to their audience in a way they can easily understand. This is an entirely different process from data analysis, as most people are not data experts. Data storytelling not only gets everyone on the same page, but it can also make a convincing argument that brings your audience around to your point of view.


How to Develop Data Storytelling Skills

You can become a master of the theory side of data storytelling by brushing up on traditional concepts of data handling and presentation. However, to become an expert data storyteller, you also need to consider the other side of things: the audience.

Here are some key points to include if your want to fully develop your data storytelling:

  • See Things from the Audience’s Perspective

The audience may not see your story as you intended it. People will interpret your story in their minds based on their personality, background, experiences, level of interest, and many other factors. Therefore, it is essential to fully understand your audience before you present or even design your story.

  • Design your Story Well

Make your story well-rounded. It should be well-structured and have a logical flow. There should be a proper beginning, middle, and end to the story, which is essential to help the audience arrive at a particular decision.

  • Use your Audience’s Language

You cannot effectively communicate with your audience with business knowledge alone. You need to use language that the audience can relate to.

  • Add Credibility to Your Story

Your story shouldn’t be abstract. You want your audience to be able to relate to it. Therefore, it’s important to present your story with realistic characters and events to have a powerful impact on your audience.

  • Listen to the Response

Though data storytelling aims to convey your ideas to an audience, you also need to listen to what the audience has to say. Design your story to encourage responses at relevant points throughout the narration, and steer your presentation based on the response from your audience.


The Power of Data Storytelling

Data storytelling is an integrated technique that draws principles from various disciplines and fields of knowledge. To be an expert in data storytelling, being an adept data scientist or analyst is not enough. You also need to be a master in communication with special sensitivity to the nuances of human behaviour.

This requires in-depth study to develop these diverse skills. In an era of data-driven decision making, professionals with the ability to effectively tell a persuasive story with data are in great demand.