Tag Archives: story telling

Presenting Data with Story Telling

Inspire your audience when presenting data!

Hans Rosling presenting data
Image of Hans Rosling presenting data by the Open Knowledge Foundation Deutschland

Presenting data in a way that not only informs your audience but also motivates them to act on your message is one of a presenter’s greatest challenges.

To be effective and memorable you have to be interesting while keeping it simple; additionally, you have to be objective, meticulous, and data-oriented.

A story will bring life to your data, and it will make it easier for your audience to understand and remember your message.

The easy thing to do, and the most common, is to present just the data. Unfortunately, this will render your audience numb, uninterested, and unresponsive.  At the end of this data dump they will take away, at best, only a fraction of your points.

To solve this problem, the most effective approach is to treat your presentation as a story.  To achieve this make sure you address as many of the famous “5W+H” as possible during both your data analysis and the crafting of your story.  The “5W+H” are: what (data), who, when, why, where, how.  By the way, quite often, to get to the bottom of your story you also have to constantly ask: so what?

The process is as follows:

1. Analyze your data.  What are the key questions you are trying to answer?  What discoveries are you making while analyzing your data?  Be as thorough as possible, analyze your data in different ways.

2. Find the story.  Where is the drama?  In other words: What is the problem, conflict, or challenge, which has to be overcome?  (At a minimum, find a clear before and after).

3. Craft your story.  As I mentioned in the Tip section of our March 2015 newsletter, the mnemonic we use in Sliding.ca to help you remember the essential elements of a good story, is DARE:

      • Details —not too few, not too many.
      • Action —the conflict, challenge, or drama.
      • Roles —the characters, no more than four.
      • Emotion.

Finally, always strive to make your story relatable to your audience on a personal and emotional level.

Bonus!  By using stories when presenting data your task of “shaping” your data, creating your charts and graphs, will be far easier than when you just perform a mundane data dump.  You’ll see great charts and graphs popping out of your head.

A note of warning:  The use story-telling techniques to present data is not an invitation to hide facts or skew your information.  Always be true to your data.  Consider the words of the prominent XIX century statistician Carroll D. Wright: “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.”

If you follow these principles your audience will not only remember your data, they will be receptive to your message and also feel inspired to act on that message.

Happy data/story telling!


Cheers, Gerardo.