Data storytelling is a skill that has been around for decades. From Hans Rosling’s TED talks, to Cole Knafflic’s best-selling books, people have been rethinking how to use narrative structures to communicate data insights. The recommendations are simple and smart, and should be widely applied.Good data storytelling is even more important today. Clearly conveying the meaning of data has never been more key than during the Covid-19 crisis. As we demand answers and assessments of the pandemic’s threats, the public have relied on people who can communicate both findings and uncertainties in understandable ways. Great data storytellers have demystified complex concepts such as exponential curves and logarithmic axes. The media have been adept at turning data into stories about trends and movements and the impacts of changing lockdowns. More recently we have moved from data about the disease to the impacts on our economy. If data-driven responses to protecting public health and repairing our economies are putting data storytelling into the spotlight, how might this discipline evolve over the next handful of years and become more powerful and personalised? Covid-19 provides an opportunity to examine and rethink how we present, share and communicate data in our own work. You and your colleagues share data in meetings or presentations all the time. What lessons can we take from the media’s analysis of Covid-19 into our virtual meetings?
Visualising your story through dataThere is no faster way to lose audience engagement than by not presenting your data in way that can be understood by everyone in the room. Working remotely has exacerbated this challenge: screen fatigue means you have to be even more careful when crafting your communications. Engaging tactics like ‘progressive reveals’ can help draw your audience’s attention to a data story. Imagine this process:
- First, show and explain a single axis.
- Then add one data point, explaining what it means.
- Next, reveal more data points.
- Then, add colour to show different categories.
- Finally, consider adding animation to show change over time.