Story is in the air

Olesia Stetsiuk posted on July 13th, 2016

data story analytics

Beforehand I wrote about the impact of data visualisation on business reports. Hopefully, arguments based on how our brain perceives and decodes information were quite compelling for you. Further, we will examine some underlying ideas which also have a huge influence on the effectiveness of your business reports.

Lately, there were a lot of buzzes around about the importance of telling a story with data. Almost every software company which specializes in BI tools and data visualisation applications wrote papers and blogs about best techniques of telling a meaningful story with data.  Business oriented web resources, podcasts etc published a lot of materials on the topic too. What is so special about telling a story that is important for a business analyst to know? First of all, humans are storytelling creatures. Indeed, we all enjoy a good story. Stories, whether in the form of films, legends, songs: they intrigue us. Secondly, there is a question of a power and influence. Everyone knows how to tell a story but only a few know how to express ideas in the most appealing manner. Probably you have met such person who can tell a simple story in a way that all peoples around become involved and excited about it. It sounds like a source of a power, doesn’t it? And it definitely is. A properly told story can be very influential.

Business analysts, data scientists, and consultants have data and insights that can form the direction of a business. But their findings and ideas are nothing if an analyst can’t persuade executives to consider them. Data workers need to be influential, and it is a good time for upgrading story-telling skills. Though what can be an interesting story for a typical data analyst might not be engaging for a manager. Stories about fearless data wrangling, models, engineered features, etc can be very exciting but not for CEO responsible for taking actions in a competitive business world. There is a distinctive gap in views and duties between analyst and a decision-maker. Sadly, but a lot of users who work with business reports on a regular basis do not care about nuances of data processing work, arduous maintenance of data cubes, or data mining techniques. We all know that the data collection and analysis process can be rigorous and time-consuming. But for recognition for your hard work you should better go to peers. Luckily, there are a lot of professional communities for this purpose. Your main task as an analyst is to target demands of your clients.It is a key for an efficient work as an analyst. Any client or decision-maker has business pain; hence, how is your report answering it? Who do you assume to view your reports? The report needs to be built on the level of information the readers already have, both correct and incorrect. Also, you won’t be influential if your reports are monotonous or overly formalistic.

How does a story emerge from the data? Look at data as Sherlock investigates a crime scene. Try to discover what happened and what data needs to be collected, try to find a momentum. A plausible story can be revealed while conducting exploratory data analysis. Think about your analysis in the frame of a story. Who are the figures in your data? What is the tragedy or challenge? What obstacles have to be overcome? And at the end of your story, what do you want your audience to do as a result?

data storytelling
(Image courtesy of jannoon028 at

Journalists are masters in telling stories around data they have, you can learn from them too. Also, for your inspiration read a recent article about basic emotional arcs of storytelling. Those data analysts who long to become better storytellers should also learn from great authors such as Stephen King. Keep in mind that, focus in data analysis is the story. The visualization decision will come freely once the enigma is solved.

Summing-up, accurate analysis, adequate reporting, and visualization is the core of an analyst job. Storytelling skills, in turn, can help to gain attention and power. Understanding your audience is a base for an excellent story. Knowing their needs is a code to connecting, and consequently influencing. Make a story the reason people want to read your report and to act upon it!

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