Visualization vs. Storytelling with Data

Use data to tell a story.

Visualization vs. Storytelling, with Data.

We’re addicted to data. It helps us find golden revenue opportunities. It helps us slash project costs. Whatever path we seek or decisions we are trying to make; we rely on data to get there. But sometimes, instead of hastening decisions, data can hinder them. That’s because those who spend time gathering data tend to want to show off ALL of it. Even data visualization experts with the ability to render beautiful, colorful charts and tables – will struggle to give their data meaning unless they know how to tell a story.

Data without a story lacks impact for two reasons:

We don’t necessarily need more data to solve our problems or uncover opportunities. We need to identify and communicate value from the data we already have.

The data doesn’t support a BIG Idea. Data that is “fire-hosed” makes it difficult for our audience to grasp the actionable “news.”

So how can you combat this data crisis? First, you must distinguish between two important but distinct concepts, storytelling with data and data visualization. Secondly, check out some powerful techniques that will help you fold your ideas into a data-driven story. Here is a guide to get you started.

What is data visualization?

Data visualization is simply the visual representation of data. This date might be basic charts and tables generated from a spreadsheet. It could also go well beyond those modalities to include any use of shapes, color, and size to draw visual focus to data findings. The bottom line is; data visualization is about communicating the substance of your metrics visually.

Using slides for data visualization can undoubtedly be used to tell a story. It can:

Provide context

Elevate and draw attention to critical insights (and visually subdue the others).
Lead to action (AKA: the “ask”).
However, storytelling at the slide level and story level are where the real magic happens when data visualization.

What is storytelling with data, and why is it important?

Storytelling with data differs from data visualization because it requires communicators to offer a broader, holistic view of their message. Before rendering any visuals, you must focus first on your audience and structure a larger message. You must identify from the start:

  • What do I want my audience to know or do with the data I am presenting?
  • How will I structure a narrative that leads to the desired action?
  • How is my data helping drive a decision?
  • There is no understating how important it is for all presented data to have a purpose. Leave out data that doesn’t further this purpose.

How do I get started storytelling with data?

We all know that telling a story with data gives it meaning. But many of us wonder: How do we do this? Well, the work begins before you sit down at your computer to build that chart or table. A good data storyteller always starts with their audience and establishes their crucial message:

  • What am I trying to achieve with the data I choose to display?
  • Who is my audience? What do they care about and what level of data detail will they likely expect or appreciate?
  • What is my Big Idea — the one thing I want my audience to know or do with my data?
  • Storytellers also determine: “Is the data I am choosing moving forward the story I want to tell?” If the answer is yes, it is probably safe to include it. At that point, you are ready to open your computer and begin to build your visuals.

Copyright: The Presentation Company

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