Data Visualization and Story Telling (Part 3)

August 27, 2020 Rishabh Saxena

When you watch a movie or read a great book, you are actually experiencing the magic of storytelling. Your attention is grabbed throughout and sometimes it even evokes an emotional response. Wouldn’t you want the same thing with your audience when you are presenting findings with data? Definitely you would, and to do that, you need to leverage techniques derived from master storytellers which I have put here in this final piece of a 3-part series on Data Visualization and Storytelling.

Structure of the Story

A perfect story has three primary components: the beginning, the middle, and the end. Each component has its importance and relevance.

a. The beginning: The beginning is all about setting up the plot which should help the audience know what the story has for them and why should they listen to it.

b. The middle: The goal of this part is to convince your audience of the need for action. You retain your audience’s attention through this part of the story by addressing how they can solve the problem you introduced.

c. The end: Make it totally clear to your audience what you want them to do with the new understanding or knowledge that you’ve imparted to them. You can probably do this by to tying it back to the beginning.

Narrative Flow

Even the most beautiful data visualization has the risk of falling flat without a compelling narrative to go with it. Excellence in communicating with data is achieved when the effective visuals are combined with a powerful narrative.

Narrative flow should be according to the audience based on the following 2 broad questions:

a. What is the level of trust?  Will they appreciate if you lead with what you want from them? Or are they a new audience with whom you need to establish credibility?

b. What is the end outcome? Do they care about your process or just want the answer? Are you asking them to make a decision or take an action?

Here is a quick guide to choosing the flow based on the above questions, and what you should be including in your story in both the cases.

Additional Tactics

In addition to above mentioned aspects of structure and narrative flow, there are 4 tactics which one can keep in mind while crafting the storyline and presentation.

Leveraging horizontal and vertical logic together ensures that the story you want to tell comes out clearly in your presentation.

To sum up, data visualization and storytelling are a combination of math and language. While both are taught in schools separately, it is important to combine both for making an impact. The best way to learn these is to follow certain rules and tips and keep practicing them. I hope this blog enables you to make a good-looking presentation based on data and present it through an engaging and impactful story.

Happy data storytelling!!

Are you interested in data visualization? Read the previous article of this series!

About the Author

Rishabh Saxena

Rishabh Saxena is Senior Business Analyst at Aon. He graduated from IIT (BHU) Varanasi and did an Executive Program focused in Business Analytics from IIM Calcutta. Rishabh has a background in insights generation and data visualization through Tableau, PowerBI and Market research.

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