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The Art and Science of Data Storytelling with Brent Dykes

My guest this week is Brent Dykes, Founder and Chief Data Storyteller at Analytics Hero. Before he founded his own company, he was at Omniture, Adobe, and Domo. Analytics Hero is a consulting business based around data storytelling

Data storytelling was a new concept to me. Brent defines it as “as a structured approach for communicating insights to a targeted audience using narrative elements and explanatory visuals.” To help people understand the concept, he wrote the book Effective Data Storytelling: How to Drive Change with Data, Narrative and Visuals. “So in my book, I talk about three key elements, the data, the narrative, and visuals, and how those elements combined to help us tell stories or communicate our insights that we have more effectively to a targeted audience.”

Much of a good data story revolves around the narrative. “I think there’s been a lot of emphasis on the data visualization aspects of data storytelling, but the narrative is really, it’s a combination of things. It’s how we structure our story. So if you think of a plot, right. So there’s a climax, there might be an inciting incident that launches the story. You’re going to have rising action. You’re also at the beginning of that, you’re going to have an exposition or kind of setting that kind of sets the stage. And then after you have the climax and there’s a resolution and kind of conclusion of the story. And so the same thing applies to a data story in the sense that we have to organize our content in a certain flow. So you’re going to have what I call the hook, which would be the introduction to the story.”

“You’re going to have the climax, which I call the aha moment. So we have an insight that’s driving the data story. […] So a lot of the narrative is just how we connect all of the findings, the key points and the data, the data story together into this structure, this flow that basically leads or guides the audience through the numbers in a meaningful way that just, it’s not really to extend it out. We want to be concise.”

Brent is a huge comic book fan. He recommends using comic books as a source to emulate for our visual storytelling. “Comic books really bring something into this where they combine both the visual and so the scenes or the panels of a comic book, they bring in and tell what’s happening and the emotions and the interactions of the character and the scenes. […] And I think that combination of visuals and narration is really what we’re doing with a lot of our data storytelling, both in terms of the annotations, obviously that’s the clear thing. but then that structure that happens behind the scenes. There’s a certain structure to storytelling where we have the, as I mentioned earlier, the hook and we have the aha moment.”

Check out the episode to hear even more of Brent’s thoughts on comic books, using comic books to show deeper societal data issues, and how to instill trust in your data storytelling. We cover how to create authentic data stories and why that’s so important. Be sure to check out this episode to incorporate data storytelling in your organization.