Visualisation and Storytelling

Feb  2019

visualization and storytelling

When it comes to translating powerful data insights into a format that people can dig into, there’s a big difference between visualization and storytelling.


Or, to be more specific, data visualization is a part of storytelling. But it’s a very common mistake to think that visualizing data and telling a story with data are exactly the same thing.

They’re not.

Consider: when you look at a chart or graph, you understand what it means to convey to you. You are able to translate the information from a readily available and observer-friendly format in order to gain understanding as to the topic at hand.

But does that necessarily make you want to take action? Does it engage you? Or does it just tell you what it means and leave it right there?

Chances are your engagement begins and ends with understanding. That’s visualization — and it is an absolutely necessary component of filtering out big data into a format that people can actually use to make good business decisions. But it’s not the beginning and end.

In order to use data visualization as a mode of storytelling, it must capture the attention of the viewer in a way that motivates action. It should inspire movement and provoke the desire to take part in something, whatever project, decision or movement is at hand.

So how can you use visualization to create a story?

Craft a story using data analysis


Creating a story out of data is just like creating a story out of words, photos or films. In order to capture the attention of your audience, you want to provide context information as to why this information matters, introduce challenges that the information seeks to resolve, introduce urgency with timelines and time-sensitive issues, and drive home the crux of your message.

Powerful storytellers weave in personal information and anecdotal commentary when presenting visualized data in order to convert charts and graphs from static representations to engaging, dynamic elements of the story.

You can use common creative storytelling devices like comparisons and contrasts to define your position, identify the overall mission and make a personal connection with the audience in order to infuse real-life meaning into the data being presented.

In a business or professional setting, it’s all too easy to make the mistake of believing that you must leave yourself altogether out of your presentation, that you should not make it personal in any way, that you should leave the business talk to all business. But for the purposes of storytelling in a business setting: that couldn’t be further from the truth.

What converts data from just a visual presentation to a story is, in fact, the personal connection you make with the people who view it. Make good use of the opportunity to create real connection in order to turn your data into a powerful storytelling device.

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