Data Culture Part 4: Storytelling with Data!

What’s a better introduction? 

“The quarterly report shows a 2% increase in net sales growth.” 


“Among Gen-Z shoppers, low-waisted slacks outsold high-rise jeans by a factor of ten over the last three months.” 

If you’re anything like the average reader, the second narrative probably hooked you in a little more. And it makes sense: our brains are wired to interpret and remember more accurately through detailed stories. So, it follows we are more attracted to narrative than we are to numbers and statistics, at least initially. 

What does this mean for data culture? How do we take numbers off a page and translate them into something engaging, something tangible, for our lives and for our businesses? 

Telling a story with data might be easier than you think. 

For one thing, our brains are on our sides. According to the Harvard Business School, “the brain’s preference for stories over pure data stems from the fact that it takes in so much information every day and needs to determine what’s important to process and remember and what can be discarded.”

Data storytelling isn’t just about grabbing someone’s attention; it’s about delivering information so that it stimulates their mind in an ongoing way

It’s not about convincing someone data isn’t boring; it’s about drawing connections between relevant narratives, and explaining relationships between our decisions and the results we can expect. 

This goes for any industry, from health and wellness to marketing, and from financial firms to educational administrators. Everyone has data—but not everyone has the skills to storytell with data… yet. 

So, what’s the secret? 

All too often, data is presented as a static numerical report. Black and white spreadsheets full of numbers are what we’ve come to expect. 

But consider bridging the gap between data and storytelling by truly engaging multiple parts of your audience’s brains. 

Brent Dykes, a data strategy consultant and author of Effective Data Storytelling, indicates “part of the skill is building narrative and revealing data in the proper order and sequence, and then there is the visualization piece.”  

Through verbal narrative, language, and particularly visuals, you can create an emotional connection between the information and your audience. Any kind of reaction will allow your audience to more fully engage with the content, and remember it down the line. They will also be able to more completely comprehend the relationships between disparate pieces of information and connect it to decision making moments in their own lives. 

Here’s an example of how data storytelling can work. 

Let’s take a look at this table: 

Fish SushiSashimi Hand Roll 
Mackerel 798657234

And let’s be upfront about things: this is a very boring data set. 

But it’s not a boring table because of the content. It’s a boring table because of the lack of narrative available through the visual input. 

You can create a broader story here by starting with verbal context. For example, imagine looking at this table again, but this time, you’ve been told you’re in charge of ordering the different types and cuts of fish for the next two weeks. With a reason to be looking at the data—and with a goal in mind—interest in the material increases. 

When examining business data, keep in mind you aren’t just randomly sifting through numbers. You have business objectives and the questions you bring to the data (what’s the most popular fish we sell? What is the most popular way it’s served?) will help you build narrative. 

But the real way to story tell through data is to use better visuals. 

Our brains process visual information around 60,000 times faster than text. Introducing color, movement, dimension, and a rapid ability to compare disparate pieces of information leads to a huge increase in understanding. Consider the same information as above, but instead of a dry table, we’re using Newton by Triplidata: 

Want to try with your own data? Schedule a demo now!