Talk Nerdy To Me: The Power of Data In Storytelling

Talk Nerdy To Me: The Power of Data In Storytelling

I recently donated a considerable sum to NPR for the first time – not because I received a year-end bonus or became freshly interested in public media, but because they did such a great job at compelling me to act right away – with a personal story backed by data. Here is what it looked like:



My 2016 NPR listening stats, according to NPR One app

With 2,610 minutes spent consuming their 291 stories, how can I say no to donating? These data made me realize the tremendous (and now tangible) value NPR is adding to my life, measured in minutes and number of stories. It was like I’ve always wanted to find a reason to contribute, and these numbers helped me reason myself into clicking on the “Donate Now” button.

Why we need data in a good story?

My story above is just a tiny example of how we can use data to tell stories that drive action. 75% of the human population considers data to be dry and boring, but everybody loves a good story. Stories make up more than 65% of the most successful TED presentations. When we tell stories, remarkable things happen between the storyteller and the audience, causing a phenomenon of what neurol scientists call “brain to brain coupling”.

The combination of storytelling and data has its unique advantage. As explained in this video below by Stanford Professor Jennifer Aaker, when we combine data with stories, the audience connect with the story both emotionally and intellectually.


There are a few reasons why we crave a good data story. Using data as a storytelling tool empowers us to: 

  • Extract Meaning. Information is only meaningful if we can contextualise it. The display of data or information doesn’t give us any meanings. We need to apply structure and highlight patterns in data, so that people can easily make sense of it. In this example below, David McCandeless tells the story of public fear with beautiful visuals that reveals trends and patterns by representing intensity of fear with height.
Mountains out of molehills by David McCandeless
  • Simplify complex information. Visualization of data helps us navigate complex datasets with easy to understand visuals. Data visual stories have the power to help us separate the wheat from the shaff: applying preattentive attributes such as color, form, movement and spatial positioning, we can help our audience comprehend information with no or very little consicous effort. In below visual data story about “which birth dates are the most common” in the US, readers can immediately come to the conclusion which days of the month are the most popular by intensity of color without seeing original data.
Most Common Birthdays Visualization
  • Focus on what matters the most. We don’t need to display all the data that is available to us, only showcase and highlight the data points that will send your message across. First step towards finding the data points to focus on is to curate data in a way that forms a compelling story. Secondly, use visual techniques to bring that story to the forefront, such as strategy use of color, contrast by way to size/height/length, or correlation with the use of proximity/grouping etc.
Image created with Visme app

You’d be surprised to see how many professions can benefit from data storytelling. A few cases in point:


  • Marketing professionals who create infographics to delight readers
  • Sales rep who use informational graphics to present their product
  • Non-for-profits using data stories to highlight the impact of their cause and raise funds from donors
  • Startup owners using data-driven presentations to raise venture capital 
  • Science journalist using information graphics to illustrate complex scientific concepts
  • Hospital workers using diagrams and flowcharts to demonstrate a safety procedure
  • Medical professionals using infographics to promote the benefits of a healthy diet
  • Teachers using informational graphics to educate visually inclined students

Just to name a few. To be able to communicate and convince with data-driven visuals is not an added skill, but essential for any profession in any industry with a need to effectively get their message across to an audience.

And if you are ready to create your own data story? There are plenty of tools out there that requires no formal design training to produce professional-looking infographics and data visuals. Among them, Visme is a drag-and-drop infographic software for non-designers. With powerful charts and data widgets, you can make your data come to life in interactive format with a few clicks.

What is your opinion on visualizing data for storytelling? Have you tried it, and if so, what’s working for you? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.


This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.

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