Data storytelling: decision-making becomes emotional

by bold-lichterman

While data collection has become widespread throughout the company, all departments combined, the analysis and transmission of results remains a practice inaccessible to the majority of company employees. Data storytelling offers a simple and pragmatic solution to this problem of exploitation and accessibility of complex information in business.

Data storytelling is the logical continuation of several new awareness in the world of business intelligence. The first concerns data visualization or dataviz. The industry understands that the linear way of presenting data, for example in Excel, is limited. The use of data visualization is then popularized. It allows you to visualize data in the form of interactive graphs. It offers rapid understanding and the transmission of complex information becomes simple.

This practice is widely popularized by data journalism, whose audience is the general public. Next step? The application of these principles to business users in companies. When it is not only the graphics but all the codes of data journalism and journalism that are used, we obtain a new category of business intelligence: data storytelling.

History is a powerful vehicle for information

In the Middle Ages, street theaters were responsible for supplementing the teaching of churches to the illiterate population through stories. This narration allows complex concepts to be imaged by facilitating the transmission of key information. Children’s stories follow this logic and allow the transmission of moral values ​​through stories. The child incorporates societal reflexes, such as not lying, effortlessly.

According to Jennifer Aaker, psychologist and professor of marketing at Stanford, a story is 22 times better retained as a statistic. Telling the story of a department’s performance makes perfect sense. Storytelling helps to better understand the success factors and helps convey them to the whole audience.

Data Storytelling is telling stories from selected data rather than accumulating graphs and indicators

Data Storytelling is a happy association: that of ancestral techniques for transmitting knowledge and information – telling stories – with what modernity has produced more abstract and austere, namely the performance figures of a company . Data Storytelling is about using this raw material and turning it into stories. The business stories of the person we equip. Instead of building dashboards and accumulating charts, we build scenarios. Instead of focusing on the structure of metrics and raw data, we focus on audience expectations.

From the same data, we do not tell the same story to our managers, who we want to raise awareness of the company’s social report, as to the management controllers in charge of monitoring the payroll. Telling the story based on the action you want the target audience to take is the best way to find operational excellence. A raw figure is difficult to interpret, a story told is already a created impact.

The story is complete if the contextual elements are present: public INSEE data, weather forecast or market data. As a result, automatic comparisons between entities, Business Units, territories, products, competitors or customers are of course at the center of the impact of the stories. But not only: the clarity of the information presented is also essential, and for that it is necessary to know how to prioritize!

Data Storytelling is a hierarchy of information

In Data Storytelling, all of your data is not returned to the user by telling him “get by”. On the contrary, we choose meticulously what we present to them. He thanks us for that. The analyst has the time, the training and the prerogatives to carry out more or less deep explorations of a database. The novice user has neither this time nor access to training (and does not wish to have it) to carry out such operations. Each time we place an exploration tool in the hands of a business user and tell him “now you have enough to explore 100% of your database”, his needs are not taken into account. Out of laziness, out of spite or lack of skills, we do not make the effort to prioritize information.

Will you take a complete dictionary to the sea in the summer to read it if you are not an expert? No. Will you take a well-written novel? Yes. Made with the same words, the writer will have chosen to prioritize the information where the encyclopedist will leave this care to the user. This is the equivalent of full access to a database versus a Data Storytelling application. The difference between the two is the work of prioritizing information and structuring that has been done.

The Dictionary effect, exhaustive and incomprehensible.


The Roman effect, simple and hierarchical.


Play with this data storytelling: here

Decision making is also emotion

Decision making is not just rational. Neuroscientists have shown that decisions are made from the prefrontal cortex, dedicated to managing emotions. In order to get a message across, you have to address the emotions of individuals. How? ‘Or’ What? By telling a story. The narration appeals to the imagination and the emotional. Consumer goods ads are already using storytelling to create an emotional connection. They no longer highlight a product, but a story, an experience. My last favorite ad: Nike, Madonna, 86, does her 45th Ironman.

These stories allow us to speak emotionally and better share our information. The objective of a presentation in a company is to convince its interlocutors to make a decision or to carry out an action, not to work on their erudition. Today, the majority of meetings are focused around presenting factual information. However, people are less sensitive to statistics than to stories. Data Storytelling allows this plunge into emotion from quantitative information.

If you prefer to share a good novel with your collaborators than a dictionary. If you have understood that you have to both convince and persuade them to take action through emotion: data storytelling is for you.

kilian-bazinKilian Bazin, co-founder of Toucan Toco, is a graduate of Ecole Polytechnique and Mines de Paris. He teaches the Dataviz course at CRI and at ENSAE in Paris. Through data storytelling, Toucan Toco democratizes access to performance data for all employees of large companies.