- "Storytelling with data is critical. But the emphasis is on data, not story."
-- Richard Hren, marketing strategist
Storytelling is a popular concept in data analysis circles these days. Thatís good! Sometimes, though, the story overshadows the data, and thatís bad.
What happens when data analysts present results in the same form that we get from data analysis tools? Not much. Decision makers donít care about that stuff. If we want action, itís up to us to speak managementís language, and managers appreciate a good story.
Stories get managementís attention. Stories help make your message understood, and encourage thoughtful discussion. But you must tell the right story, in the right way.
The heart of a good data story is the data itself, and the information that the data reveals. Some people tell stories that are engaging, believable, and persuasive, yet untrue. They hammer data into the story they want to tell, instead of crafting a story to fit the dataís message. Some of these stories bend facts, others are simply make-believe. Those are not good data stories.
A good data story must be true.
Whatís true? The sequence of events in your story must be realistic, in light of the available data and your analysis of it. The data comes first, the story second.
Good data stories also need the same things that any other story needs.
A good data story needs the right protagonist.
Letís be clear. Your data story must not be about you. Management doesn't care about you. Clients don't care about you. A good story is about a person that the listener can identify with. So a good protagonist might be your manager, a client, or some other person (real or hypothetical, such as a customer persona), that is important to your audience.
A good data story needs a challenge.
Interesting stories introduce conflict early. Whatís your hero or heroineís problem? High costs? Low revenue? Legal risk? What will happen if the challenge is not overcome?
A good data story needs a happy ending.
The ending may not be as happy as a fairy tale. Perhaps not all will live happily ever after. But the ending will suggest a course of action that makes the best of the situation. Sometimes that may be very happy indeed, as when a test program worked so well that you can recommend expansion and everyone will gain. Sometimes it will only be the best of a bad situation, as when the test goes so poorly that you must recommend pulling the plug to minimize loss.
Next time that you present, donít do a data dump. Instead, tell a true story. It will be about a hero very much like your manager or client, and tell the tale of facing a challenge and taking it on for the best possible result.
Do you tell stories with data? Share your experience here.