7 Steps to Storytelling with Data
My audience is and always has been people looking to learn something new from me. I’m an educator pure and simple. Nothing satisfies me more professionally then being in front of an engaged audience. Sharing new insights that will drive action is what I do and I use the power of data storytelling to do it.
From classroom to boardroom to conference stage, I have used data storytelling well over 1000 times in my career. When people present data to you that informs you, that’s just presenting analysis. When people present data to you in a way that inspires, educates and empowers you to do something based on that data, that’s data storytelling (or storytelling with data… which some will argue are two very distinct disciplines, but for today let us let them be interchangeable).
I’ve covered these 7 steps in hundreds of trainings over the years. However, that has predominately been in front of corporate audiences for analytics training. I recently had the chance to talk about Storytelling with Data to a group of about 75 college students who where interested in hearing about my entrepreneur origin story.
So I dusted off what worked before and updated it for a new audience. The key elements of data storytelling remain the same:
- Know Your Audience
2. Consider Time Constraints
3. Prepare Your Data
4. Chose the Right Visuals
5. Deliver Key Insights
6. Demonstrate the Big Takeaway
7. Narrate the Story
The audience needs to accept you as the expert, understand the current situation, and based on your data and analysis, reach the same conclusion as you do. It’s like a book or a movie… you meet the protagonist; you become invested in them and go along with them on their journey and then you feel satisfied when they reach the end.
One of the most important aspects of building a data story is considering the time constraints you must work within. Delivering compelling insight and moving the audience towards a course of action requires you to understand the time it will take the audience to get there.
Like with movies, illustrated books and even well written descriptive narrative, visuals are a key element in all of this. A data story has to be more than a collection of pie charts and line graphs, it has to allow each visual to build up the next. You have to know what visual to use when in your story to make sure the audience understands what you want them to understand.
Do you know what the most important KPIs (key performance indicators) are in your organization? You pretty much have to in order to be effective at data storytelling. This is what made me one of the top analysts with Well Fargo for 15 years and has made me one of the most in demand analytics trainers in the BPO industry in the Philippines that past decade.
I have had my finger on the pulse of what matters most to decision-makers. I give them the exact amount of data they need to understand the situation and make choices based on that data. If you aren’t sure what your top KPIs are, just ask yourself what data, when it gets reported with negative results, gets your boss’s BP to skyrocket. That’s your most important KPIs.
And knowing this, tells you what you can use in in your big takeaway. What is the ONE thing you want your audience to leave the room thinking about. It must be ONE thing. Otherwise, you massively dilute the impact of your analysis. This one thing has to get them all on the same page, demonstrate to them what needs to be done and give them a sense of urgency to make them do it.
Data storytelling is not just run of the mill management reporting. It is for situations where the data clearly demonstrates trends or patterns that call out for immediate action. And as a data storyteller you need to be the influencer in the room. The data sets the agenda, you take that data and make it a mission.
When I think of my journey from corporate analyst to the entrepreneur who trains corporate analysts, I see it in terms of a data story.
Back in 2012, having spent time in the Philippines setting up an outsourcing team for Wells Fargo, I discovered an audience. The audience was (and still is) massive… hundreds of thousands if not millions of Filipino BPO workers who need to upskill when it comes to analytics. The terms data storytelling, big data, business dashboards, predictive analytics, hadn’t even entered the conversation yet. There was a clear and present need for influencers and subject matter experts to move the needle and move it quickly. We were 10 years behind and we need to hyper accelerate things.
As thought leaders, industry experts and government officials came together things started to happen… CHED, IBPAP, APEC, AAP. Using data on what works, what type of workers are needed, and the global scope of the problem defined expectations, set goals and drove action. Course and Trainings multiplied quickly. I taught, I lectured, I trained… over 10,000 Filipinos in analytics. We taught, we talked, we trained… and we succeeded.
It took a lot of effort to move people with visual, with completing data points of how big a lift this was going to have to be. And it was all with the goal of making the Philippines a hub for analytics outsourcing. To offer a deeper vertical of solutions to overseas clients, we had to deepen the talent pool and widen the skills sets. Just google it. You’ll see our efforts of using data storytelling to drive the nation forward. It’s a narrative that tells the story of a protagonist and his journey to where we are today.
And that is how I use storytelling with data to tell you (and the 75 students at San Beda) my entrepreneur story.
Daniel Meyer heads Sonic Analytics, an analytics firm with offices in Manila and the San Francisco Bay Areaa. With over 20 years in Big Data, Dan is an author, public speaker and business expert in virtual staffing and process automation. Dan brings big data analytics solutions like business intelligence and data storytelling to small businesses looking to level up their use of data, virtual staffing and technology. An advocate for the use of analytics for civic responsibility through training, consulting and education, Dan loves volunteering his expertise with schools and non-profits.