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Power in Simplicity: How to Tell High-Impact Stories with Data Visualization

WRITTEN by: Carly Cheton |
categories: B2B

Oct 2017


It’s been argued that we are all sales people, in one form or another. Whether at the individual or organizational level, success in business often relies on your ability to sell an idea or an insight in a convincing and persuasive way.

At Upward, we’re in the selling ideas and insights business, developing powerful brand narratives for global B2B companies. However, none of it is possible without a strategy grounded in relevant, high-quality data. Whether it’s looking to Google Analytics to identify a website’s main traffic sources, or assigning scores to recorded phone calls to assess the quality of a customer experience, the importance of leveraging data-driven insights to make strategic recommendations is difficult to overstate.

If an organization collects data of any kind, there’s a story to tell. With access to this information, you’re equipped with a tool to create compelling narratives around what you believe can be high-impact decisions for your business. And rest assured, this only becomes more important as you look to secure buy-in from groups of stakeholders or executives.

So, how can you best present the insights you believe deserve attention and consideration?

Taking a few cues from data visualization expert Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic in her work Storytelling with Data, here are three guiding principles Upward uses in visualizing data-fueled insights for our clients.

1. Understand your context.

Chances are, presenting insights to a colleague on your marketing team will be a very different experience from presenting to an executive.

Understand who it is that you are sharing your information with and cater your visualizations and level of detail to what those individuals care about most. The fact is, we only have a few seconds to capture someone’s attention with a presentation slide. You’ll want your argument to be as succinct and relevant as possible.

2. Think like a designer.

Great data viz starts with knowing what you’d like to illustrate. In Storytelling with Data, Nussbaumer Knaflic emphasizes the importance of using visual cues to guide your audience through your data’s main takeaways.

Using elements such as color or font bolding, taking the steps to eliminate all non-relevant, cluttering information, and selecting the most appropriate graph type, will ensure your point comes across clearly, efficiently and effectively.

3. Simplicity is key

With a wealth of data available to you, you might be tempted to bring it all to life in one all-encompassing, eye-catching design. However, Nussbaumer Knaflic urges us to take an explanatory, as opposed to exploratory, approach in selecting data for visualization.

Wading through a massive Excel file and countless pivot tables to get to your most heavy-hitting insights is no small feat. Despite this, your visualization should only show the information that supports your argument. While exploratory analysis is necessary at the project’s start, a polished end-product should be as simple as possible, conveying only the high-level takeaways, with a limited amount of clutter for the eye to process.

Great data visualization can help you tell a compelling story, especially as you look to effect change in your business. And while the guiding principles outlined here can help you get started in conveying your narrative, it’s also critical to ensure you’re presenting the right type of narrative. So, how do you ask the right types of questions to ensure you’re communicating insights that are just as actionable as they are relevant? We can help.

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