Data Storytelling for Data Consultants

by Jake Wilkins

28 Jan '22

How to give insightful presentations for your clients


Forbesmagazine describes data storytelling as the essential data science skill everyone needs. Data in businesses holds an immense number of insights and information which can be analysed by data scientists and consultants. Thereby, not only the data science skills – to understand and process the data – are of importance, but also the ability of the consultant to visualise and communicate the findings to the respective client. The found insights need to be communicated effectively so that they can be converted into business actions and measures by the client. The art of efficient communication of data insights is referred to as data storytelling.


Data storytelling can be subdivided into three lessons


Lesson One:

Data is the first step in this methodology. The extraction of knowledge and insights out of data is pivotal for every successful communication of the found insights. The data needs to be made readily available and understandable; this can be initialised with a selection of data cleaning techniques,and exploratory data analysis.


Lesson Two:

Visualisation in the next step is often understood as visualising data effectively. However, it is much more important that the prepared plots, graphs, and tables are visually appealing and easy to grasp for the client. Also, the visuals need to focus on the aspects which are of key importance to the client. Admittedly, an effective and appealing visualisation of relevant insights is still not enough for a successful communication. The presented data needs to be embedded in a context. The visualised data insights show us what has happened, and how a story is constructed around our data is crucial, as we will learn in lesson three.


Lesson Three:

Narrative is the last but most vital part of data storytelling. The visualised data insights show us what happened, and it is the purpose of the narrative to explain to the client why this has happened. The language format used must suit the needs of the client. The narrative is the key to convey the insights, and the visualisation and data insights need to be embedded in the narrative as important points of proof.


Data storytelling – a new concept?

Data storytelling is not a new concept. Companies have been using it successfully for many years.  One example for this is the popular series of TED talks. Speakers of these talks share knowledge that matters through short talks and presentations with the goal to inform and educate global audiences in an accessible way. To reach this goal it is not enough to just share data with the audience and visualise it but to share this information within a relatable context – a story (or narrative). This is what made this concept so successful. The knowledge and information are communicated in a way that all of us catch and remember the most relevant points while not being flooded with pure data insights. Through this the knowledge sticks in the minds of the audience and raises their interest as the knowledge featured in the story shows them their connection to the topic.


Why is this concept relevant for data consultants?

In the world of data and analytics we carry out many of our work steps within the analysis and preparation of data without thinking much about it. We understand the steps and processes and these skills maybe even come to us naturally. During this process we gain an immense number of insights into the data set we are working on so that when we present our findings these might be overwhelming for our audience – we must be respective of our client – as we forget that they did not conduct every step of our analysis and have the detailed level of insights we gained throughout the process.  The outcome is to prevent a scenario which psychology refers to as  “information overload”. Therefore, it is of high importance to always think back and remember what the aim of the analysis was. What was the main questions the client had? Which business actions shall be supported by our findings? This is the context in which we need to embed our findings and prepare our communication accordingly. Not only should our visuals focus on the points of central importance for our clients but also, we need a narrative, a story which helps to communicate the important points of our analysis to the client effectively. This story will not only help our client to understand the findings but also to remember them. It increases memorability, persuasiveness and engagement with the topic.


So, how does this all come together?

To put it all into a nutshell, many bold and important insights are overlooked if they are not successfully communicated via data stories. Finding key insights and communicating them successfully are two completely different skills but both are equally critical for data consultants and to derive value from data for a business. Therefore, we do not only need to focus on improving our data science and analytics skills but also on our communicative and “storytelling” skills to become data consultants who are truly able to transform businesses.





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