Using Storytelling to Engage Your Data Consumers

We all love a good story. It hooks us from the very beginning. The scene and characters come alive in our minds. Before we know it, we’re hanging on every word. We get so wrapped up in the story, we lose track of time. We’re dying to find out how it ends. When we reach the end, we feel a sense of closure…and maybe a little wistfulness that ride is over. Storytelling is a powerful tool.

Now imagine yourself in a meeting where someone is giving you a presentation on data. Are you engaged? Are you dying to find out what happens next? Not usually, right?

Storytelling book open with eyeglasses

Storytelling Makes Your Data Come Alive

But you could be! And when you’re up there giving the presentation, you could have your audience on the edge of their seats. You just need to look for ways to turn your data into a good story.

For example, suppose you need to report on an initiative that has increased graduation rates for its target population. It’s good news, so of course you could just share the numbers. But wouldn’t it be better if you told a story about some of the participants: where they came from, how they struggled, how the initiative helped them, how it helped other students, what it could mean for the future of the institution? Even without the details, the story is more interesting and memorable than just a few data points. And just maybe, it will keep people talking about it as they go about their day.

Data consumers listing to a story about data

Draw on Your Experience to Build a Story

Turning your data into a story isn’t all that difficult. Sometimes there is a real-life example to build on. Other times, you can construct a storytelling scenario. Either way, remember to incorporate these principles:

  1. Make them care: Who is your audience? What is important to them? Make sure to align those things to capture their interest.
  2. Build anticipation: Include enough background detail to paint a picture in their minds.
  3. Follow a clear path: If your story is too complex or too hard to connect to the data, your audience may lose interest.
  4. Draw parallels: It may be clear to you how the data relates to your story, but make sure it is crystal clear for your audience.
  5. Clear conclusions: Your story is one example of the data, but make sure they see the bigger picture.

Have you had good luck turning your data into stories? What do your audiences respond to? Let us know!