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Harnessing Data Storytelling

Telling A Data Story

So just what is a data story? According to ThoughtSpot’s blog, “Data storytelling: How to tell a great story with data,” it is a narrative constructed around a set of data that puts it into context and frames the broader implications. “Unlike business intelligence or data science that emphasizes the technical task of turning data into insights, a data story brings these insights together with qualitative analysis and domain expertise to better understand a relevant business goal or objective,” writes Ryan Mattison, Senior Director, Content & Communications, ThoughtSpot.

Creating a data story, notes ThoughtSpot, leads to data storytelling—crafting a narrative through leveraging data, which is contextualized and presented to an audience—and giving that audience, whether they are a field of experts or perhaps a novice to the subject, a chance to understand and learn about the topic in the right context. It utilizes not only data analysis and statistics, but also data visualization, qualitative and contextual analysis, and presentation.

A data story doesn’t necessarily mean that it must be lengthy. In fact, many would point out that the days of 50- or 100-slide presentations are over (hopefully). The purpose then of data storytelling is that it also helps to explain data to people of different learning styles and allows the narrator to craft the communication methods to the respective audience. Ultimately, it is a way to engage and inform the audience and to make an impact with insights.

ThoughtSpot points out several components that are key for data storytelling:

  1. Find the story within the data: Before constructing a data story, you must first determine what the data is actually telling you.
  2. Consider your audience: The next step is to determine who the story will be conveyed to and what their backgrounds are.
  3. Determine what data matters: It’s common to get overwhelmed with data when constructing a data story. In general, it’s important to start by identifying the data that can inform the topics you’ll want to explore instead of looking at all the possible data available.
  4. Analyze data and find insights: With the most relevant data identified, the next step is to perform data analysis to find insights that create meaning out of the data.
  5. Identify the most effective data visualizations: Data visualizations are a powerful way to help an audience understand data concepts.
  6. Provide context: Data on its own is not enough to create an optimal data story. The domain expertise around the topic is essential to crafting the right narrative, and making it understandable to the audience. It’s critical to weave context and data insights together.
  7. Structure your story: Leveraging a storytelling structure that people are familiar with will help capture their attention, create a framework for information consumption they’re already familiar with, and allow them to better understand the relevance and importance of the story that the data is telling.
  8. Edit until the story is clear and concise: When presenting a data story, regardless of the topic, it’s important that the story is clean and to the point.

A Storytelling (with Data) Tale from TMRE

In the blog, “Revealing Top Market Research Themes from TMRE 2023,” All Things Insights looked at some of the top trends from the last The Market Research Event. This included the trend of data storytelling within the insights discipline. Many of the educational sessions at TMRE focused on data and analytics, but also stressed the importance of the storytelling nature of the insights function. Stories are sticky and emotive—they create authentic moments and emotional connectivity. Authoring your insights should ultimately be about creating a compelling story for the right audience, using sources of data and cross-collaboration as well. Be a narrator and keep in mind story delivery. It should be compelling and actionable. This will in the end support making a business impact.

Making An Impact with Data Storytelling

Data storytelling within the insights discipline offers numerous benefits, enhancing the effectiveness of communicating insights and driving informed decision-making. We asked ChatGPT to outline the top benefits:

  1. Increased Engagement: Data storytelling captivates audiences by weaving insights into compelling narratives that resonate on a human level. By leveraging storytelling techniques such as character development, plot progression, and emotion, data storytellers engage stakeholders more effectively and maintain their attention throughout the presentation.
  2. Improved Comprehension: Complex data sets and analytical findings can be challenging for non-experts to understand. Data storytelling simplifies complex information by presenting it in a narrative format, making it easier for stakeholders to comprehend key insights, trends, and implications.
  3. Enhanced Memorability: Stories are inherently memorable and leave a lasting impression on audiences. By framing insights within a narrative context, data storytellers make information more memorable and easier for stakeholders to recall later, facilitating retention and application of insights in decision-making.
  4. Facilitated Decision-Making: Data storytelling enables stakeholders to connect with insights on a personal level, fostering empathy and understanding. By presenting data in a meaningful context, data storytellers empower stakeholders to make more informed decisions that align with organizational goals and priorities.
  5. Persuasive Communication: Effective storytelling evokes emotions, builds rapport, and persuades audiences to take action. Data storytellers leverage storytelling techniques to convey the significance of insights, influence stakeholders’ perceptions, and drive consensus towards recommended courses of action.
  6. Cultural Impact: Stories have the power to shape organizational culture by conveying values, beliefs, and norms. Data storytelling reinforces the importance of data-driven decision-making within the organization, fostering a culture of curiosity, learning, and accountability around insights.
  7. Cross-Functional Collaboration: Data storytelling encourages collaboration and knowledge sharing across departments and functions. By translating technical insights into accessible narratives, data storytellers bridge communication gaps and facilitate cross-functional alignment on strategic initiatives and priorities.
  8. Identification of Opportunities & Risks: Through storytelling, data storytellers highlight both opportunities and risks inherent in the data, enabling stakeholders to weigh potential outcomes and make informed decisions. By illustrating potential scenarios and their implications, data storytelling helps stakeholders anticipate challenges and capitalize on opportunities.
  9. Empowerment of Data Literacy: Data storytelling promotes data literacy by demystifying analytics and making data accessible to a broader audience. By providing context, interpretation, and actionable insights, data storytellers empower stakeholders to engage with data more effectively and make data-driven decisions in their roles.
  10. Differentiation and Competitive Advantage: Organizations that effectively leverage data storytelling gain a competitive advantage by communicating insights in a more impactful and persuasive manner. By distinguishing themselves as data-driven storytellers, organizations enhance their brand reputation, build trust with stakeholders, and drive innovation in decision-making processes.

Demystifying Analytics

Overall, data storytelling within the insights discipline offers a range of benefits, including increased engagement with stakeholders, improved cross-functional collaboration, and more influence over strategic decision-making. By harnessing the power of storytelling to convey insights, organizations can unlock the full potential of their data and drive meaningful change across the organization.

Relevant, timely and ethical data must also be considered. Ultimately, the storytelling narrative is only as good as the data that preceded it. As Microsoft notes in “What is data storytelling?,” make sure your data story is valuable: “There’s a possibility that data storytelling has the potential to make a huge shift in changing the face of how we consume data and analytics. Data storytelling adds a human touch to the sometimes-indecipherable numbers and figures raw data presents to us.”

Video courtesy of Storytelling With Data


  • Matt Kramer

    Matthew Kramer is the Digital Editor for All Things Insights & All Things Innovation. He has over 20 years of experience working in publishing and media companies, on a variety of business-to-business publications, websites and trade shows.

    View all posts

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