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What does it mean to be a good storyteller with data?

December 15, 2020   By Joe Ruekert

At Fahren, we have incredible data & analytics leaders that help our clients understand their customers, products, and the insights that data can provide. Being able to gather, process, interpret, and provide conclusions for decision-making are imperative skills for any analytics leader. For these leaders, it’s not enough to simply report the results, they have to be storytellers with the data to achieve the desired impact.

Last week, our team met to discuss a topic that every analytics leader should consider: how can I become a better storyteller with the data we have? Here are the key takeaways from the conversation that everyone can learn from.

Know the audience

The first step in being a great storyteller with data is knowing your audience. During the discussion, one of our consultants mentioned the challenge he had. He was sending a daily email dashboard during the company’s peak season. The challenge was who was included on the email. The audience was the CSuite, product managers, IT leaders, and developers. That size of the audience makes it incredibly difficult to craft the perfect daily dashboard email.

What’s fairly obvious is that each level of an organization has different needs when it comes to storytelling with data. The CSuite needs to understand a completely different level of detail than your product teams or engineers. IT needs a completely different set of data than Marketing. 

To be a great data storyteller, it’s imperative to craft the right level of message for the audience.

The narrative is vital to data storytelling

In addition to crafting your data story for the audience, being a great storyteller with data requires going beyond simply reporting the results. Leaders need to understand cause and effect. Did conversion fall because we bought a bunch of cheap traffic, or do we have an issue with our experience in the conversion funnel? Simply reporting conversion dropped is not enough.

Going beyond the ‘what happened’ and getting to the ‘Why it happened and what we should do’ is one of the most important skills an analytics professional can have. Showing cause and effect brings insights to the data that can drive decision making and improvement.

Visualization improves storytelling

On a tactical level, embedding spreadsheets into emails and presentations can be difficult to read and interpret. Whenever possible, representing data graphically can make understanding much easier for those that are not familiar with the data.

This is why platforms like Tableau and Domo have become so popular in enterprise organizations. Leaders can see the story in visuals more quickly, helping drive consensus in understanding of the story the data is telling.

Whenever possible, and especially when presenting data to executives, make the data as visual as possible. 

Persuasion is an often-overlooked skill with analytics professionals

As we have mentioned, data storytelling becomes more compelling when it helps with decision making. A critical part of that storytelling is not just reporting the facts, but having an opinion with recommendations on what could be improved. Answering the questions “so what?” and “now what?” will help any analytics leader become a more effective communicator.

Using arguments, logic, and reason when telling the story of your data will help elevate your career as a data leader. Have a point of view and use storytelling to convince colleagues and leaders how to move forward.

Conclusion

Simply reporting the data often isn’t enough for analytics leaders. Being able to tailor your communications to the audience, adding a narrative and visualization, and persuading your teams on how to move forward can dramatically improve your skillset.

If your organization needs help telling better stories with data, contact us here to get started.

Co-Founder and Product Leadership Practice Lead

Joe helps companies of all sizes transform their businesses by building digital experiences that drive business growth. With deep expertise in digital product management, eCommerce, design & systems thinking and agile transformation, Joe helps organizations move into the complex digital world with confidence. He is passionate about creating digital experiences that start with the customer and his philosophy is built on leveraging data and research to solve real business challenges. When working with clients, Joe focuses on leading with positivity and collaboration. At home, Joe is an avid golfer, skier, and Minnesota Vikings fan and is outnumbered with his wife and two daughters.

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