Data Storytelling: Imperative or Oxymoron?

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Data Storytelling Seems As Oxymoronic As Legally Drunk Or Microsoft Works. But First…

We live in a world immersed in analytics and analysts. Numbers which are utterly emotionless and empty of substance.

Hell, just look at the first four letters of analytics and analysts — Pretty self-explanatory.

Meanwhile, a story is meaning.

  • Who are we?
  • What are we doing?
  • When did it start?
  • How are we doing it?
  • And most importantly, WHY are we doing it?  We’ll get back to the why later. (Foreshadowing)

Data provides facts. 

Story provides feelings.

According to LinkedIn, one of the hottest skills companies need the most in 2018 is analysts.

And 2017.

Oh, and 2016. (If you actually read the link, you’ll notice it was in 2015 too.)


In an article by Forbes on the subject of data storytelling they state, and I quote:

“Interestingly, much of the current hiring emphasis has centered on the data preparation and analysis skills—not the “last mile” skills that help convert insights into actions. Many of the heavily-recruited individuals with advanced degrees in economics, mathematics, or statistics struggle with communicating their insights to others effectively—essentially, telling the story of their numbers.”

Matter of Fact…

If you, you know, actually click THAT link and read the article, you’ll see a quote from back in 2009 from Hal Varian, Chief Economist for a little web company called Google.  He states in this interview…from 2009 (Yes, I’m making a point of emphasis here)

“The ability to take data—to be able to understand it, to process it, to extract value from it, to visualize it, to communicate it—that’s going to be a hugely important skill in the next decades.”

10 years later, the struggle is real, and it still exists.

But before we proceed any further–I’m going to do you a solid and answer the question you’ve been asking since you regrettably started reading:

What Is Data Storytelling?

According to the previously mentioned Forbes article:

“Data storytelling is a structured approach for communicating data insights, and it involves a combination of three key elements: data, visuals, and narrative.”

Yeah, you need examples–

In this wonderful piece about data storytelling by Two Octobers — They break it down into 8 Rules:

  1. Begin With A Question
  2. End With An Insight
  3. Tell A Compelling Story
  4. Explain With Visuals, Narrate With Words
  5. Be Honest And Credible
  6. Be Clear And Concise
  7. Know And Cater To Your Audience
  8. Provide Context

Think about this in promoting your business on your website.  Providing value to the prospective consumer is paramount.

An effective way to do so is by displaying in hard data, images (because god knows people love pretty pictures), and a narrative at what your company has done. How it has done it. And why you’ve done it this way.

Unfortunately, for some, if not many, comprehending numbers, statistics, and/or analytics you’ve stared at on a quotidian basis may be easy to you–But Sanscrit to them.

For some, looking at a pie chart makes them think of, well, pie and apple, cherry and strawberry rhubarb wins 10 times out 10 my friends.

And telling an audience a story has been know to cause their dissipating attention span to…what was I talking about?

This is Data Storytelling. Taking all that data, all those numbers, all those images and telling the world what they mean and why it’s important in a way only YOU can!  

When you started your business, you may have spoken to someone: Family, friend, hired consultant etc. who simply asked–

“Why are you doing this?”

Keep this question in the back of your mind as you sit with those emotionless numbers which you’ve become way too familiar with, those stupid charts which make you think of, well, pie.

And remind yourself, “this is why”…

Suddenly a story reveal itself which will not only make the data easy to translate in layman’s terms…

But a story which causes them to feel, to emote, to finally understand why this is so damn important to you…

Should be just as important to them.

Written By Keith Hannigan

– Freelance Blogger and Content Writer with over a decade’s worth of experience in the copywriting world.
– Check out more of Keith’s writing at or look him up on LinkedIn.