The Power of Storytelling: Can Telling Stories Enable Change?

The Power of Storytelling: Can Telling Stories Enable Change?

After a lecture on data visualisation last week, I’ve been doing a bit of reading around the subject.

One article I’ve read (‘Data Storytelling: Craft Meaningful Visual Stories That Drive Action’) has really resonated with me.

First off, it’s about communicating insights in a way that engages with the audience, helping them to make decisions and then turning those decisions in action. It’s about facilitating change.

As a ‘budding’ data scientist, that’s what I’m interested in. What insights can I uncover that enable positive change?

Data? Fine, but It’s just data.

Personal insights from data? Interesting intellectually maybe, but so what?

Insights shared with decision makers? We’re getting somewhere.

Insights shared with decision makers in a way that connects with them emotionally and intellectually, that enables decisions and positive change? Now I’m interested.

Data scientists, as Nate Smith points out, are ‘knee deep in the noise and data, finding the insights among the false leads’ but our audience have different needs. The author argues we need to engage with them emotionally as well as logically, and that one means to do that is to combine data, visualisation with narrative i.e. to use data story telling.

Humans hear statistics, but we feel stories.

Nate Smith

What do I know about the best means of communicating data insights? Zilch. But what I do know is the power of story. I’ve seen it time and time again. As a primary school teacher with a class in front of me, mouths agape, listening to a story I’m telling them; as a member of an audience, being drawn in to the world that is being created in front of me by a skilled actor or comedian; as a reader, completely emotionally connected to the characters an author has conjured from his mind.

And a key component of storytelling is emotion.

Decision making requires emotion, according to brain science, and data stories act as the bridge between logic and emotion.

Nate Smith

Storytelling is powerful. Human beings respond to stories. Why should it be any different in the world of communicating data?