Data storytelling is a powerful tool in driving transformational change, and one of the most difficult to master. With the over-abundance of data at your fingertips, how do you as a change leader choose what will reach the hearts and minds of your audience and inspire action? Here’s XPLANE’s approach. 

Don’t start with the data. 

Weird, right? You would think that data storytelling should start with, well, data. But data on its own is overwhelming and difficult to interpret. It needs analysis and meaningful context to inspire action. At XPLANE, we believe a human-centered approach will help you cut through the noise and use data in the most effective way. 

The first step is to think about your audience, and what matters to them.

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Who is your audience?

Consider the following questions: Who are the users? How will they use data? What are their goals? What are their priorities?  

For instance, are you conveying information to a busy group of executives who need to make decisions that affect the whole organization on a macro level, within the context of global trends? Or are you working with a Customer Service team who needs to dig deep into specific customer pain points? Stepping into the shoes of your audience first will help you understand what data points – at what elevation – are going to have the most impact.  

XPLANE’s Empathy Map worksheet is a great way to deep dive quickly into your audience’s shoes and pinpoint what matters most to them. 

What is your story's purpose?

What matters to your audience has two components:  

  • The Context (why is this important to me) 
  • The Action (what do I need to do as a result) 

Combine these together to form your story’s purpose into a simple statement:  

“The purpose of this story is to get [your audience] to understand [the context] so that they do [the action].” 

Use your story’s purpose as a filter when choosing and analyzing the data set that will support your narrative. Ideally, you have a comprehensive set of data that supports your narrative and will drive people to action, while also being unbiased. Some filtering questions you can ask are: 

  • Does the data all connect to the purpose without distracting from it? 
  • Does it support the context and make a clear case for action?  
  • What data is primary, secondary, or tertiary in priority?  
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What will your audience remember?

Ultimately, the goal is to convey your story’s purpose to your audience in a memorable way. Storytelling is so powerful in aiding memory because it engages multiple parts of the brain at once (the centers for language, emotion, and empathy), signaling to the brain that the information presented is important and worth retaining over the mountain of other input it receives throughout the day. By telling an audience-centered story supported by data, you’re helping to filter through the noise while creating a powerful connection that will resonate on multiple levels (logical and emotional) to inspire action. 

You can supercharge this effect by using one of XPLANE’s most powerful principles:  

Make it visual. 

Our brains are hard-wired for visual processing and pictures are retained at a far higher rate than words. How you visualize your data is a critical part of layering in context, supporting your data narrative, and making complex information simple and digestible. Focus on impact (remember to anchor back to your purpose) and choose visualizations that highlight the most critical data points and support your narrative succinctly. Whether it’s a simple bar chart or an interactive dashboard, prioritize clarity and action. Here are some of XPLANE’s favorite data visualization frameworks: 

Visual showing Data coding, affinity mapping, and detective wall

To master all the elements of telling compelling stories that resonate with your audience and inspire action, don’t miss the chance to learn from an expert storyteller in our Storytelling for Change course. Click here to learn more and register. 

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