Delivering Complex Data That Sticks
Through Story and Visual Elements
Web analytics, social media data and email metrics are flooding
businesses with information in greater quantities than ever
before. The amount of raw data floating across multiple
spreadsheets can be overwhelming. While the hard facts
areuseful for adding strength and credibility to any
exchange, deciphering these datasets and
presenting them into meaningful information
is often an agonizing experience.
The ability to interpret online metrics accurately and then relay that message clearly to others is both an art and a science. The goal is not only to provide valuable information, but also to make it stick. Typically, people like and remember stories. Thus, the presenter who can engage the audience with an interesting explanation of the data often outshines the person with the best answer wrapped in a boring package.
So, how does one organize information so it speaks
clearly and resonates with the audience? ChaiOne’s
Vice President of Design and Innovation, Kelsey
Ruger, suggests using the following process.
- First, define the problem that needs to be solved.
- Second, find the key messages within the data that adds value and makes a connection.
- Third, present the information in a three-act story arc: identify where the business is now, where the business is going and how the business will reach the desired goal. Give decision-makers easily digestible answers that set reasonable benchmarks, measure company performance and spot attractive business opportunities.
- Finally, look beyond basic metric reporting and reveal the answers that the data unlocks in an interesting visual and/or story.
It’s true: people are visual creatures, and a person’s
ability to learn improves with the use of visual aids.
According to Geoff Ball, a graphic facilitator, 80 percent
of a person’s brain is dedicated to processing
visual information. So, combining the right visual
aid with the right color scheme, which attracts attention
and augments the story, is important to inspire
and educate. Together, these design elements
can significantly impact the story of “how many”
and the relationship within the data.
To enhance the meaning of information, color alone can be used in a variety of ways, such as naming places and things, measuring quantities and illustrating representations. Meanwhile, visual aids in the form of charts, graphs and pictures help simplify complex information.
Some of the most common types include:
• Pie charts to represent percentages of the whole
• Bar/column charts to compare groups of data
• Line charts to reveal trends over time
• Pictures to illustrate people, places or things
• Venn Diagrams to present relationships between sets of data in overlapping circles
• Maps to delineate political boundaries and population densities
• Timelines to highlight the occurrence of events
When exploring visualization options for reports and presentations, be creative and use some imagination. Keep in mind that large datasets need to be visually appealing, easy to understand and represent the data truthfully, by using consistent scales and units of measure. Employing the right graphical element will help provide a quick snapshot of the complicated relationships riddled throughout the information and will reinforce the message with the audience.
To make the transition from mundane data-laden
reports to interesting stories, Ruger suggests starting
with infographic-based data that adds supportive
narratives or examples that connect with the
audience. The idea is not to create something that
is new, but to make an association with existing
information that triggers the mind. He advises
using universal truth stories. He explains, “These
are stories that are used to communicate widely
understood values, beliefs or situations regardless
of race, ethnicity, religious beliefs or gender. For
example, everyone at some point in business has
experienced loss, fear, doubt, change or complexity.
Seeing a character in a story experience these
difficulties helps the audience understand and empathize
with the situation.” The bottom line is to
bring the data to life within an organization by
telling a compelling story. Match the universal
truth story with the key messages in the data that
resonates with the audience.
Making Connections From the very beginning of time, pictures and stories have been a mainstay for conveying information and swaying the audience. They communicate ideas more clearly and have greater impact than using complex data, such as metrics and analytic reports alone. Yet, as the workplace becomes more sophisticated, the need to communicate complex ideas clearly becomes increasingly important. Using story and visual elements together to explain data-rich information helps facilitate understanding, makes a better impression and conveys important answers so action can be taken on the right opportunities.
About the Author: Michelle Wicmandy is a regular contributor to Website Magazine, a lecturer at the University of Houston Downtown and an executive-level marketing and business development professional.