Posted by Teigen Enhorning
May 6, 2019
If data alone could convince anyone of anything we’d all run perfect businesses. In the last two years we’ve created more data than all other years combined! So why does it feel like we’re not learning enough from all this information? Well, it’s because we’re using less than half a percent of all this data. Data Storytelling is the key to making this information digestible and usable.
The fundamentals laid out in this article makeup a foundation that can be used to improve your reporting whether you’re using Tableau, Alteryx, Power BI or any other Data-Visualization Software.
Data Storytelling is a lot like storytelling. It helps if there is a clear goal to accomplish. Without a goal, a quest loses direction and will likely lose the audience too. Take the time to clearly define what the problem is and try to maintain that focus throughout the story. If the audience understands what the problem is, their brains can actively search for solutions as they listen. This heightened level of engagement means a more memorable story.
Take a hint from the competitive industry of journalism. Without a name and a face to go with it is there even a story? As humans we naturally empathize with other humans as we see more of ourselves in them and relate to their struggles and triumphs. We can use this principle to engage an audience by depicting a character with as many attributes as we can. With each detail we make it easier for the listener to connect with the story we tell with the data.
Leaving a lasting impression on your audience is much easier when you can stimulate multiple senses. When we see “freshly baked bread” written on a page our brain receptors fire in a way that almost let’s us smell and taste the bread. We remember the sound the crust makes when we break off a piece. Adding words and images that make us add senses to the story help us enter the story, making it personal and leaving a lasting impression. The more senses you can affect the more powerful the memory will be.
Adding emotions to a story about data points is easier than it sounds. After you’ve linked your story to a human character and multiple senses it becomes even easier. If the data is worth reporting, you can almost guarantee it can be linked to an emotion. Whether it’s joy, excitement, fear or anger the result is a far deeper connection between the story you want to tell with the data and the audience.
Let’s use the story of Tiger Woods as an example: we’ve got a human character and the story is told on a TV broadcast, so with all that imagery it’s natural to constantly be stimulating the senses. So, tip number 2 and 3 are freebees already, but how do we find the problem in our story? He’s a golfer, he’s really good and he recently won the Masters for the 5th time. If you don’t care about golf this isn’t a very interesting story, but if we create a problem to focus on we create a story anyone can follow. The broadcasters did this exceptionally well.
So, what’s the problem in the story? The problem was the deterioration of Tiger’s body and home, and the uncertainty of his own ability to regain everything he’d lost. It was a comeback story – from big cat to underdog to goat after years of being considered history. The broadcasters repeated this narrative constantly even showing a compilation of pros and analysts scoffing at the question, “will he ever be what he once was?”
For millions of people golf is unrelatable, but being undervalued is relatable for most people, unless there’s a crowd of screaming fans waiting for you to leave your house in the morning. People were suddenly captivated by GOLF! People that HATE golf! Everyone wanted to see if Tiger could prove the world wrong and reclaim his throne. There was an emotional connection created simply by revealing more and more about a human character and focusing on a relatable problem.
Likely this is not the story in Tiger’s mind however. His injuries and personal life are things long in his past; he has a new family and has had many performances in the last year that suggest his game is back up to par with the best in the world. Not to mention his ability to block out the past is often revered above all his qualities.
The problem the broadcasters focus on is curated for the audience to easily connect with the adversity our character must overcome. Tip number 1 is the most important because it will likely involve more of a creative stretch on your part than our broadcasters. Tiger’s story almost wrote itself, but your data sets might not have the same weight as an epic comeback. Therefore, I will repeat what I feel is the most important part of this whole article: Take the time to clearly define what the problem is… Einstein once said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” If the problem is not clearly defined, you should go no further.
For our purposes, I will give you some thought processing cues: ask yourself what aspect of the information do I want them to remember? Why do they need to remember it? Lastly, is this revelation enough to captivate this specific audience or do I need to create an analogous problem more of the audience can relate to?
Without further ado I will now attempt to use these tips to “data-storytell” you why the Masters broadcasters would be great data storytellers… while also encapsulating the breadth of these foundational concepts in a bare-bones style graphic to show the effect of these concepts despite a lack of fancy colours, shapes, interactive pop-ups etc.
Modern data visualization tools make data storytelling easier and more effective. Tableau’s Story Points feature provides a framework to guide you through data visualizations revealing the information you need to make smart decisions and take action. Forbes magazine refers to data storytelling as the “last mile skills that help convert insights into actions”.
LET US KNOW if you would like us to tell your data story, or if you want to learn more about using Tableau Story Points.