Using data to communicate a compelling narrative is an essential skill for many of us. Here are 3 ways you can improve your skills. 

2:00 min

There are two types of data storytelling in organisations, says data specialist Glen Rabie on LinkedIn. The first, standard templated reports, tracks certain metrics on a regular basis and shows what’s happening in a business through numbers. But it’s the second, influencing stories, that persuades people to act through data presentation. Think about the outcomes you want and then bring in the data to support your argument (but also be prepared to discuss data points that weaken it). “At the heart of storytelling is the ability to coalesce an organisation around a set of ideas and take them forward using data to support your arguments rather than just opinions.” 


In a video tutorial for the Harvard Business Review, author Scott Berinato explains how to engage people using stories. “Every story told since the beginning of time follows this structure: setup, conflict, resolution,” he says. Data storytelling is a matter of finding these elements in your data and bringing them to the fore. The key ingredient is conflict: what happens that changes the situation outlined in the setup and introduces the new situation in the resolution. Without change there is no story. As a worked example he shows how to rebuild a chart of home prices into a storytelling device. 


Your audience will appreciate your presentation more if you deliver maximum visual clarity – not just in charts but in words. A worked example on the Storytelling with Data blog takes an imperfectly presented slide and shows how it can be improved to add impact. Techniques include using colour intelligently, simplifying clutter by getting rid of elements that distract the viewer’s attention, and adding words that tell the story and clarify what you want the audience to take away. It is also worth creating different versions for live presentation and written communication.