Data Storytelling Arc in Action

data storytelling arc

Data science is an interdisciplinary arena that uses scientific methods, processes, algorithms and systems to obtain knowledge and insights from data in various forms, both structured and unstructured. Simply, it is the art of using data scientifically, to drive decisions. Everywhere you go, you hear about analytics. It is one of the most popular buzzwords today – with merit. Analytics is changing the way people do business. Its impact is akin to the revolution brought about by electricity or the Internet. It is transforming every aspect of life. Analytics is the language of data. It is the medium through which you can communicate with data. It helps you talk to data. More importantly, it helps you listen to data. For if you know how to listen to data, you can learn all the secrets it contains within itself. In business parlance, analytics has gained a star status, finding application across industries. The exact definition and identification of the word changes between industries and verticals. For some, analytics could refer to the analysis of traffic or the performance of a website or an app. For others, it could be the effort to derive insights that can improve sales or the supply chain. It varies according to its application, but the process remains the same. For instance, every time you shop at a retail store, you are sharing intimate details about your purchases and your consumption patterns with the retailers. Retailers, like most other businesses today, are collecting this data, and then using it to identify patterns that can help them understand your needs and of course, sell more material to you. This is an example of “Analytics” – and how it can help you offer the right products to the right customer at the right time.

Storytelling with Data

I am sure many of you have stayed up late to finish a novel, that you could not put down without knowing how it ends, or finish watching movie, that you could not switch off, or even changed an opinion about something, after hearing or reading the story about the same. Stories can change the way we think, act and feel. Stories can capture our imaginations, illustrate our ideas, stimulate our passions, and inspire us in a way that plain cold facts or numbers often cannot. Their power lies in their stories and how they engage their audience with their art of brand storytelling. Storytelling in business is a method or an approach for delivering the messages, to potential clients, board members or employees, in a way that it presents events alongside facts, numbers and data, emphasizing imagery that the audience can imagine and feel. In the business world, business meetings have always traditionally been about facts and figures, but in recent times, we notice that the usage of storytelling techniques is being increasingly employed by business leaders to talk about products, services and brands. The primary reason for this is to be able to persuade, influence and motivate an audience. There is no better way to do so than by telling a story. Business stories differ from regular stories as you tell them with an objective, goal or a desired outcome rather than just for entertainment. Data storytelling is a structured approach or method of delivering messages, derived from complex data analysis in a way that allows the audience to quickly and easily assimilate the information, understand what the data is trying to tell you, and then draw meaningful conclusions. To do so any good story should be simple to understand, provide some value to the audience and leave a lasting impression, so that they stand out. 

Many traditional reports tend to be lengthy and contain excess of text and cluttered graphs, and executives find it time-consuming and cumbersome to go through all the information; thus, they end up requesting for one-page summaries or highlights. The trick here is to ensure that the relevant information is still present, and the message comes out across clearly, and not to miss out any of the crucial questions to be answered. This is where data stories can help, where they enable the audience to grasp a large quantity of facts quickly. Combined with the power of effective visual communication, it lets the audience grasp a large amount of information in chunks, that helps the working memory retain information for a longer time. When a narrative is coupled with visuals and data, it helps to explain it to your audience. Ample context and description are often needed to fully appreciate an insight. When visuals are applied to data, they can enlighten the audience to insights that they would not see without charts or graphs. Many interesting patterns and outliers in the data would remain hidden in the rows and columns of data tables without the help of data visualizations. Finally, when the narrative and visuals are merged, they can engage or even entertain an audience. Just having earth shattering data, incredible statistical analysis or even beautiful charts and visual is not sufficient, if you cannot put a gripping story behind it. A well-structured story with visuals and data to back it up is critical for your audience to remember and act upon it.

Storytelling to drive the Data-driven Culture

The most significant aspect of Data Analytics is the buy-in from each level of stakeholders. You could come up with the most sophisticated algorithm to solve a problem, but if no one is willing to use it and drive decisions, there is no benefit. Thus, developing a data driven culture is significant for any organization or a business, in order to drive a change. “People” play a major role in this journey of analytics, causing a cultural change, which would undoubtedly take ample time, since every individual is not analytics/number driven. Therefore, Data Storytelling is one of the key arenas that anyone could tap into, for the purpose of grabbing attraction from everyone in the organization, thereby succeeding in the ladder of data driven analytics.

Exposition Magazine Issue 15

Ms. Hiruni Niwunuhella


Department of Industrial Management

University of Kelaniya

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