Lending a hand to would-be storytellers

Advocating data storytelling is easy. But actually making a data story out of data is something else. As much as storytelling could help to deliver meaning, says one consultant who works up close to the action, many data analysts just don’t even know where to start.


“If no one teaches you how to tell a story, how do you do it?”says DecisionViz president Lee Feinberg. How do you expect them to tell a story in words or visualizations? “Face it, most of them aren’t even good at writing or English.” What might be hard even for natural storytellers is making a set of reports into something meaningful.

In one project, an advertising agency with mounds of data had to convince a client that spending money with them was worthwhile, and to make recommendations on expenditures. The agency wanted to show media buy did well or did badly. What went up or went down? What’s it mean? Why did it happen? They know they need to do it, but they just don’t know how. He helps them through it.

“In their gut, they knew that what they should be doing was not reporting,” he says. But if they issue reports without having thought through to the final message, they actually spend more time in the end after reports are sent back and have to be done over.

He offers analysts a structure and a methodology. He shows them how to break findings into pieces.

Do organizations need roving storytellers? I imagined a thin old guy with long, graying hair and a wizened face wandering among the cubicles and speaking up at crucial meetings. Would such a specialist help? Feinberg, perhaps humoring me, said it might.

One Response to Lending a hand to would-be storytellers

Leave a reply

Other recent posts

Qlik finally set to leapfrog Tableau?

Who’s your rival? I carelessly asked a Qlik person at the company’s annual analyst reception Monday night in Miami if she hadn’t once worked for Tableau. Her revulsion was immediate. “No! Never!,” she said. We smiled. There was so much more to talk about. For one thing, how will private equity change things? Qlik wasn’t… Continue Reading

Five Tips for Better Data Stories

Originally published on September 22, 2015 in BI This Week, a TDWI publication. A “data story” sounds like such a great idea. You just mix data with storytelling and you’re done — except that most data storytellers get one thing wrong: they drown out the story with data. Such storytellers, I believe, assume that audiences… Continue Reading

Bohemian Grove a la BI

The Bohemian Grove of the BI industry convenes for the fifteenth time in just three weeks. Naturally, you ask the obvious question: Are you serious? The Grove? A summit? The answer begins with a fond recollection of the Grove. If you’ve never attended the Bohemian Grove yourself — I haven’t, though I live in the… Continue Reading

Favorite Star Trek, a data story

This story shows how elemental data stories really are. Humans come ready to tell and hear them, requiring no plug-ins at all. This young person can do a good job of it. There was a question, followed by data, then questions and answers, and and finally a conclusion. It’s all there. It’s elementary. Sure, this… Continue Reading