Why Storytelling through Data Is a Required Skill in 2017

Mobile Man / Thursday, January 5, 2017

Business Intelligence, data visualization and dashboards made a huge impact in 2016. In fact, 89% of business leaders believe big data will revolutionize business operations in the same way the Internet did. The exponential growth of business data - and the numerous choices a user has when it comes to visualization solutions available - make it hard for users to make sense of data effectively. Data visualizations are key to telling an impactful story in a business environment. As such, choosing what data to visualize and how to present it has become a vital skill in today’s business world.

To those unacquainted with the world of data and Business Intelligence, its rows of unintelligible numbers and confusing jargon can feel intimidating. Nevertheless, you do not need a statistics PhD to begin creating effective data visualizations and dashboards.

There is a substantial amount of research that shows that visual learning is key. It takes the brain roughly 13 milliseconds to process an image; in comparison, it takes around 60,000 times as long to process basic text. 65% of visual information gets retained in memory for more than 3 days, compared to 10-15% learning recall for spoken or written information.

Adapted from: Dale 1969

As the above table demonstrates, the brain is able to preserve information much more effectively when provided with visuals compared to written and spoken information. This can be proven by simply comparing the table with its visualization shown with the chart below:

Of course, most people are already very aware of the benefits that data visualizations can offer; the problem is actually creating them. Given the sheer quantity of available data and methods of visualizing it, it can seem rather intimidating.

Know your story

The explosion of data now makes it easier than ever to back your business story with proof points. Being able to effectively justify your idea has always been emphasized in businesses – whether it’s showing a new concept to your boss or presenting a project in front of your team. With new data visualization solutions available, like ReportPlus, you can now connect, explore and turn your data into a powerful visual story to drive influence in your organization.

It’s easy to get lost in this ever-expanding ocean of data – so it is vital that you understand where your data sits and what the purpose of your data visualization is from the beginning. The role of visualization solutions like ReportPlus is to simplify connecting data streams, help you uncover your strongest proof points and expedite visual story telling. A valuable approach is also to take on a storytelling mindset. Giving your visualization a narrative offers it a spine, and makes it far less likely to end up trailing off (along with your audience’s attention).

Once you think you have the basis for your data visualization, ask yourself the following questions:

• Who is your audience?

• What are the key messages you want to convey?

• What questions might your visualization spur?

• Do you have the answers to those questions?

• What conversations may result?

The notion of questions and conversations is very important, as that should be one of your main aims for your visualization. You want your viewers to come away with something after they’ve spent time with it, so that they’re more likely to remember the information you’ve shown them.

Find the right pattern

When analyzing data, searching for patterns or interesting insights is a great starting place for creating the base of your story. The three common patterns conveyed through data are trends, correlations, and outliers.


You can use data to express a variety of different things, but one of (if not the) most common theme for data visualizations is displaying trends. Tracking trends over time is a frequent favorite, used for its simplicity and clarity. These are most often displayed in the form of bar, area and line charts.


The perfect pattern for comparing and contrasting, correlations help put your data into perspective. You may have found an interesting parallel between two data sets, or an alarming difference between two others. There is a certain attraction to seeing two elements juxtaposed, and correlation patterns are extremely popular. By highlighting the two side-by-side, your results become far clearer and more striking.


Outliers may seem like a burden when analyzing data, and are recognized by some as ‘faulty data’. While this is sometimes the case, they can actually form the starting point for creating your data story. Outliers are defined as data that lies a considerable distance away from the mean or median average, and so are good ways of identifying any dissimilarities or unusual instances in your findings.


Having a good base for your data story is one of the prerequisites for making your presentation understandable and memorable for your audience. In the free whitepaper ‘The Beginner’s Guide to Effective Business Storytelling with Data Visualizations’ we discuss what else you need to know to get started with visualizing your data, and unlocking its large-scale potential: how to work out your story, how to understand your data, which type of chart to choose and how to present your data and how to create a dashboard from your data and make it shine.

Keen to explore the power of data storytelling in your job? Try ReportPlus today to discover and present new solutions for your business.