December 27, 2016, by Erik Larson

How to Tell Your Story Using Data Visualizations

Is there any form of communication more compelling than a great story? Done correctly, the persuasive power of storytelling is more impactful than any other medium. And when we need to tell a story quickly and memorably, we turn to pictures. In our 21st century world that picture is often times a chart, graph or other data-driven graphic, also known as a visualization.

How does a good storyteller make her narrative come alive with visualizations?

We must first find the storyline that the data supports. Here are some strategies to help you, the storyteller, win your audience through data visualizations.

4 strategies for telling data-driven stories

  1. Don't be boring

    As storytellers we are competing for the audience’s interest. This is even more true in a policy lobbying setting. We must look for a way to create a hook and capture our audience’s imagination.

    A great way to accomplish a good hook is through finding relationships in the data. For example, how does state tax policy relate to job creation in your industry?

    What do the data show by industry and occupation set that you are advocating for?

  2. Tailor to your audience

    We have a big advantage when we address our policy-making audience: we know who they are and what they care about. Don’t miss this opportunity to tailor your storyline and make it sing.

    We also know our audience is busy and must be able to glean key takeaways that don’t get lost. Make sure your data story relates back to something meaningful such as economic impact in their voter demographic.

  3. Be objective

    We all know the data don’t lie, so use this fact to build trust with your audience. Let the data speak for itself without bias and without obscuring its message. At times this may mean showing aspects of your impact data that may be counter to your objective.

    Instead of avoiding data that don’t fit neatly into your policy agenda, embrace it and capitalize on the opportunity to build your credibility. What could be more effective in bolstering your reputation and making your mark?

  4. Be consistent

    The flipside to our opportunity to earn credibility is the danger of burning it. The best antidote to this threat is being consistent. And it isn’t just you. You likely have a team of advocates who may be carrying your association’s message on any given day. How will you keep your team on the same page?

    Customize your impact reports centrally, and distribute them broadly. This will help avoid the inevitable message fracturing that occurs when more and more people engage in the communication process.

Tell your story with data.

The biggest stories are increasingly told through data. Become a creator of great narratives and let the data do the talking.

Your industry. Your economic impact.