Data Storytelling in 4 Steps

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You’re standing in front of your manager, your boss, and your boss’s boss. Behind you is a screen with the first slide of the research presentation you spent hours on. You click to a chart filled with numbers and text. Your boss yawns. Your stomach clenches. You wish you hadn’t eaten that burrito at lunch. 

Surveys indicate around 75% of the population fears public speaking. We’re afraid of boring our audience—and when it comes to presenting research, data and statistics, we think we’re on the way to Snoozeville.  

But you have the power to turn your statistics into compelling, value-adding nuggets of persuasion. When you embed data in a story, you won’t have to fight for your audience’s attention. Read on to learn how to use data storytelling to boost your persuasive power, add value to your insights and make your presentation stick in your audience’s mind. 

The Benefits—and Dangers of Using Data 

We’ve all seen presentations with data that just doesn’t work. From a lack of clarity to data overload, complex jargon and missing interpretation, it’s easy to miss the mark. 

But when you get it right, it can have real benefits, including: 

  • Boosting your credibility and impact 
  • Increasing your persuasive power 
  • Improving your audience’s comprehension and engagement 
  • Making your presentation more memorable 
  • Adding value to your insights 
  • Supporting your decisions  
  • Making you look more professional 

When you build your next presentation, you want to get the most out of your data. One of the best ways to make sure to avoid any of the classic data presentation pitfalls is to use data storytelling. 

What Is Data Storytelling? 

Stories are humanity’s bread and butter. We’re hard-wired to tell and listen to stories—and we’re even up to 22 times more likely to remember information if it’s part of a story. It’s why you remember the plot of the movie you saw last year better than last week’s sales figures. (For more on the basics of presentation storytelling, check out our blog, Presentation Storytelling in 5 Easy Steps.) 

Building data into a story adds an extra dimension. It involves deliberately building specific data points into your presentation to complement and support your story. (If you read the opening of this blog, you already know what a data story looks like.)  

Using data storytelling supercharges the effect of your story. it can help you connect, boost retention and persuade your audience. Check out the next section for a step-by-step guide. 

How to Build Data Storytelling Into Your Presentation 

Find your story 

Imagine your airline company wants to be more eco-friendly, but you need to convince an investor. You’ve found data suggesting that 75% of customers prefer environmentally conscious airlines. You might build a story around an imagined customer, or a few customers, all environmentally conscious. After introducing them—and adding a humanising touch—you include the statistic. Your data will have a stronger impact on your investor, and they’ll be more likely to remember it later. 

Use data selectively. 

Stick to the most relevant data points and leave the rest. It’s tempting to include all your carefully collected numbers, but your audience won’t care about data that isn’t relevant to the wider story. Plus, with too much data, you risk muddling your message. 

Give context.  

Show how your data fits into the wider story and use precise terminology to explain exactly what it means. Keep your audience’s level of expertise in mind—they may not understand your field well, so keep your language accessible. 

Use clear data visuals.  

Consider creating a data visual like a chart or graph if you’re working with more than one statistic. Clear, effective data visualisations help you convey information and engage your audience. Read on for tips on building data visuals: 

  • Understand your audience. Tailor your visualisations to your audience’s level of expertise and interest.  
  • Choose the right chart type. Bar charts are great for comparing quantities, line charts for trends over time, pie charts for showing proportions and scatter plots for relationships between variables.  
  • Simplify and declutter. Avoid unnecessary decorations, use a limited colour palette to highlight important information and make the visuals easy for your audience to read.  
  • Label clearly and provide context. Clearly label your axes, data points, and any other relevant elements. Use descriptive titles and captions to provide context and guide your audience.  
  • Incorporate your data visuals into the wider story. Make sure your data sits in the right order within your story so your audience can follow the flow of information and draw meaningful conclusions. 

Now you’ve got the data storytelling skills you need to connect with your audience, increase retention and level up your power of persuasion. To learn more about storytelling in presentations, check out our blog, Why do your decks need pro storytelling? 

Or, if you’d like our creative teams to build a bespoke presentation for you, get in touch today! 

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