Humans have been using the medium of storytelling since the beginning, but only really recording it from the moment a wet painted hand went onto a cave wall. These days we read stories in books or access stories over the internet on our tablets and other devices.

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The main key to all of storytelling is data in one form or another. From 1 x wooly mammoth and 3 x hunters (thats 4 items of data) in a cave painting to the complexity of how many bits and bytes are in an online book.

For a good explanation on What is data?Cassie Kozyrkov, Head of Decision Intelligence,@ Google has written some great posts and videos on the subject.

So when we have data, we use stories to explain what it is telling us – hopefully not through 1000’s of powerpoint slides…….Make it Stop!!. What are you going to put in those slides that will keep the audience hooked and focused.

Stories are normally based around a simple concept of beginning, middle and end, however there is more to it that that if you want to tell a good story.

The first thing through before getting to the story is to make sure you understand what the data is telling you. If you don’t understand the data and your asked a question, will you be able to answer it or further illustrate your point. Keep in mind – EVALUATE – LEARN – PRACTICE. Then maybe practice some more until you are confident with what your about to talk about.

Decluttered and simple visuals help to tell the story and keep the audience focused on what you are telling them, rather than they spend the time trying to understand what all that text and facts are on the screen. Information is Beautiful is a site that shows some ways to display data visually in easy to understand ways by David McCandless. Here is his TED talk:

Stories normally follow a Heroes Journey which takes the plot line through a series of steps to keep the audience wanting more and to continue to read the rest or listen until the end. When storytelling about data, as similar construct can be used using the Heroes Journey:

SequenceHeroes Storytelling StepData Storytelling Step
1Status QuoWhats the current normal
2Call to AdvetureThe Question (What is being asked of the data)
3AssistanceWhat are the Sources
4DepatureTurn the data into something understandable
5TrailsData Analysis
6ApproachMethods used
7CrisisData Modelling / Wrangling
8TreasureThe Findings
11New LifeNew normal
13EndEnd or maybe a different question?
Data Storytelling using a Heroes Journey

There is a good explanation of the different styles of Heroes Journey on Wikipedia. the above table is change a bit. Heres a video that goes through a format:

Now we have a structure, how you tell the story is just as important. How can you pursuade the audience about the data and point of view that you are presenting?

There are, then, these three means of effecting persuasion. The man who is to be in command of them must, it is clear, be able (1) to reason logically, (2) to understand human character and goodness in their various forms, and (3) to understand the emotions–that is, to name them and describe them, to know their causes and the way in which they are excited.


Aristotle set out his Powers of Persuasion in four areas:

  • Ethos – Author/Speaker (Character, Credibility, Authority, Truthfulness)
  • Pathos – How topic effects you – connect and bridge the gap (Current emotional state, Target emotional state)
  • Logos – Why it effects you – story / proposal (Reasonableness, Consistency, Clarity)
  • Karios – Time and place

Ethos – ‘It is not true, as some writers assume in their treatises on rhetoric, that the personal goodness revealed by the speaker contributes nothing to his power of persuasion; on the contrary, his character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion he possesses.’

Pathos ‘persuasion is effected through the speech itself when we have proved a truth or an apparent truth by means of the persuasive arguments suitable to the case in question.’

Logos ‘persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions. Our judgements when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile.’

Rhetoric, Aristotle

Karios is an Ancient Greek word meaning the right, critical, or opportune moment.

How we can use these areas is illustrated in this example:

When preparing for the Storytelling session its worth checking that you are not going to fall into the trap of the “echo chamber effect”.  From my post on the subject I have created the following term to help me remember – STACK

  • Step Back
  • Think
  • Absorb other views
  • Challenge your thinking
  • communicate your Knowledge

Storytelling is more trustworthy than just presenting data on its own. One to consider when you create your next PowerPoint Presentation.

Further Reading