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Telling Stories with Data

by Jill Pollack

Google does it. Your grocery store does it. Heck, for all we know your mom may be doing it too.

Collecting data. That’s what everyone is talking about these days, the need to measure the effectiveness of everything from websites to purchasing habits to employee productivity.

We’ll save the debate on data collection for another time. Today, I want to talk about what to do with that data.

If you’re already a data geek or working with measurement and numbers, then drop a comment in below with some suggested tips or tools.

BUT, if you are deep inside the corporate corridors and feeling bogged down by old Excel spreadsheets and expectations, then Read On.

Data Visualization

If we want to use all those numbers we’ve been collecting, then we have to determine the easiest and most compelling way to display the information to make it Useful, Digestable, and Actionable.

Charts and graphs have been around since Galileo and Ptolemy began using data to track the stars and uncover the laws of physics. Today, charts and graphs have become objects of art, seeking to not just display information, but to tell the story of that data quickly and colorfully.

Do you have reports you communicate on a regular basis? Want to motivate your employees with organization facts or accomplishments? Then consider developing a “data graphic” template. This may be an infographic, a Venn diagram, or even a classic pie chart. The point is to deliver the data using color, lines, percentages, shapes, maps, etc.

What reports are you sick of filling out? Which ones can you turn into data graphics?

This visual template can make life easier for the viewer, and for you:

1. It can generate awareness and excitement among your audience. Think of the Fitbit craze or runners who track their every mile. Software and tools let us easily convert that data into visuals or badges when we meet a goal. Why can’t your corporate data do the same? There are many many many tools out there to help you design an eye-catching and useful graphic, even if you don’t have any design skills. (Of course, having a graphic designer on board will improve the success of your template.)

2. Creating an adaptable template means you’re not creating the wheel every time you have to communicate the numbers. It’s a time saver. An added bonus is that templates also save time for the audience. If you train me how to use the graphic, then with each update I can gather the information I need more quickly. (HINT: Templates are great, but be careful about letting them get old, boring, or outdated.)

Visualized data also let’s you tell a broader story more quickly. But this is where we have to be careful!

Pro: visualized data can tell a story quickly and effectively.
Con: visualized data moves so fast, that important story components can be lost.

Why Is A Writer Talking about Visuals?

There are different types of learners; some of us prefer text, while others prefer pictures. Still, all of us are able to take in larger concepts more quickly by looking at a chart or infographic.
That’s because “visualized data” does some of the work for our brains, sizing and comparing percentages, for instance. Where words create messages using similes and metaphors to paint a picture, data visualization uses pictures to convey that message. Same message; different method.

The key–as with all business communications–is to make sure you are telling the right story, to the right audience, at the right time!
Jill Pollack
About Jill Pollack
As Chief Story Wrangler, Jill Pollack spends her time chasing down the best stories…and making them better. But telling a great story isn’t enough for her; she has to throw some neuroscience into the mix. Art+Science=the answer to everything. Jill is the founder and director of StoryStudio Chicago—a writing training center for creative writers and business professionals. In addition to teaching, writing, and forcing people to admit that they can’t live without great stories, Jill oversees writing training for more than 1,200 students each year. She is a frequent speaker on the power of stories in our personal and professional lives and was once again included in the Newcity Lit Top 50 list of literary leaders in Chicago.
Telling Stories with Data
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