In the field of Business Intelligence we work daily with data and reports. However, like everyone else, what really sticks in our mind is not data but stories. An analysis can be insightful or not, but to be compelling, wrap it in a narrative.
Our most persuasive communicators are story-tellers.
Good stories are simply constructed – beginning, middle and end will do. Really good tales may have a twist. Most importantly, stories are not abstract: they include characters and emotions. Structure conveys what we learn. Characters are why we care. But emotions are why we remember. Think of the last row you had with your significant other. I am sure you can remember the emotions more clearly than the cause!
So, having made a new discovery in your analytics, how would you tell a data-based story? Start simply.
Who is central to the story? They need not be a “hero,” just a real character. What was their situation at the start? How did that become complicated, and why does that matter? Also, how did the character feel? Emotions resonate. Finally, what did they discover? What did they do? At the end, what has changed, and how does the character now feel? Put this together, with concrete examples at each stage, and you have a data story that will be memorable long after the bare facts.
Let’s try it …
Every month, Mary, in accounting, would discover some line items priced 100 times higher than expected. Every month she manually adjusted them. Eventually, thoroughly fed up fixing these recurring mistakes, she asked the IT team for the raw data to see what was going on. Mary found some weird looking numbers in data from the Swedish subsidiary – what are these commas for? They were not thousands seperators for sure. They just looked wrong. Mary called (probably Skyped!) the Swedish sub and learned that Scandinavians often use a comma in place of a decimal point. The US-localized data import process was misreading the values. The data team quickly coded a fix, but were they ever embarrassed! Mary saved herself a chore, and won respect from her IT team.
You see? It’s hardly Wuthering Heights, but it is a story that conveys a problem, and a solution worth remembering. We have a simple structure – the situation with a problem, what was discovered, what changed. We have concrete examples, and an interesting twist. And very importantly we have emotions, not just facts. Mary’s feelings and the feelings of the IT team make the story more significant to us – no matter who we sympathize with in this case.
For years, we have talked about pervasive business intelligence – let’s do persuasive BI next!