Using Data and Storytelling to Create a Vision for the Future

Data. Something that brands often associate with information and research but never with storytelling.

Data without context only tells half the story. Businesses are continually investing in data. However, according to research firm Forrester, in 2017 fewer business decisions were made using data (45%) than in 2016 (49%).

Believe it or not, storytelling is just as important in driving outcomes as the quality of your data and insights. Whether you’re a sales professional, marketer or a leader, you need to be able to construct a clear and compelling story. If you don’t, you risk losing the attention of your audience.

While people are initially drawn to a human interest story, facts and figures are key ingredients to brand storytelling. To bring this together, data storytelling is the magic concoction of both hard information and human interest.  Thus, allowing the audience to trust the brand because data adds creditability to your story. 

Rather than just utilizing the emotion behind a story, data allows for your story to engage the audience even further. Yes, your prospect or stakeholder may be drawn in by the story, it is the data that will drive home the message. 

Learning how to frame your research and present it in a compelling way is essential to move from insight to action. 

Here are some tips that will allow you to create a structured story that can help your data have an impact.

Identify the Key Message

Start off by identifying what the goal of your presentation is and then identify your key message. Once you have that, use one or two key data points to highlight the business problem and provide a solution or direction.

Using a surprising or stand-out statistic is much more memorable than cramming in multiple research points. Focusing on a stand out statistic helps drive your goal home. If you put in too many then people get lost and your message can get diluted.

Not sure which statistic to highlight? Start with “why.” Simon Sinek is an ethnographer and leadership consultant who delivered a popular TED talk and wrote a best-selling book on this topic. He argues that successful business leaders can motivate themselves by understanding why what they do is important.  Then they use this understanding to push their teams forward. 

Providing context and a story before diving into your results helps your audience understand. It deeper helps them understand why they should be paying attention and then what their takeaway will be.

Create a Narrative

So, now you have the data, you know your audience and have your key message identified. What’s next? How can you deliver the story in a compelling way? Do this by developing a narrative structure.

Take a look to the past a look at some of history’s greatest storytellers. The story always features a relatable protagonist who reminds the audience of the status quo and then reveals the path to a better way.

It’s the context around the data that provides value and that’s what will make people listen and engage.

Using this structure, you can create a cohesive story while inspiring action.

Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic, best selling author of storytelling with data, share the fundamentals of data visualization and how to communicate effectively with data. Watch her Google Talk video below, where she highlights a couple of lessons from the book:

Humanize the Results

You may have all the data in the world, but if you can’t connect with your audience, you might as well have nothing.

Nancy Duarte, best-selling author on visual storytelling, is a strong advocate of building emotional appeal through examples and anecdotes. In her book Resonate, Duarte gives the example of tech giant Cisco Systems. “The company’s salespeople became much more successful when they stopped delivering fact-heavy presentations to promote their products and started telling stories. For instance, the story of a struggling, small business owner who grew his company and managed it more effectively using Cisco products is much more relatable than simply hearing about all the latest features.”

Think back to your past conversations and compile responses from customers. Now use these responses and start to add color and context to your story moving forward. 

The key to this strategy is identifying your audience and understanding what examples will resonate with them.

Make it visual

Humans love visuals. Even if you’ve written the best data-driven story, you risk losing your audience if you just show pages and pages of text. Figuring out the best way to present your results is important to avoid your audience getting lost.

“The ways in which organizations deliver business analytics insights are evolving,” says James Richardson, Senior Director Analyst at Gartner. “Data and analytics teams have always created dashboards and visualizations, but many are unfamiliar with wrapping those artifacts into a narrative.”

Include imagery that can support your narrative and make it easier to digest.

Make sure your audience knows what to do next

Create identifiable next steps for your audience. Some brands already understand that research can create a good story and deliver actionable insight. 

Data without a story isn’t compelling. Make an impact by delivering data in a way that makes sense, and compels your audience to action. By creating a story that your stakeholders can relate to, you can transform market research from a tactical tool into a strategic asset. This can ultimately enhance decision-making across the enterprise.

Presenting data visually in a clear and engaging way can be of great help in their data-driven decision-making process.