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Data Storytelling: Building Success Through a Strategic Communication Plan

Imagine attempting to build a house without a set of blueprints. Similarly, the journey to crafting a compelling data story begins with a well-thought-out planning process. Before you step up to present your data, whether in a meeting, boardroom or a conference hall, the groundwork for an impactful data presentation must be laid.


a laptop sits atop blueprints; a cup of coffee and tools are at the ready


In today's landscape that harnesses the benefits of data-driven decision-making, the effectiveness of a data presentation can be the key differentiator between achieving business goals and objectives or falling short. Integrating data communication techniques like data visualization and data storytelling into your presentation strategy is the foundational step in ensuring your data message resonates with your audience.


This article will explore what a data communication plan is, the critical elements that constitute a strategic plan, and provide a worksheet for use in creation of your own data storytelling.


Data Communication Planning

At its core, data communication planning involves developing objectives and analyzing your audience. These fundamental components can be further refined to create a clear sense of purpose and a robust understanding of your audience.

Clarify your vision. Plan with precision.

An effective presentation is like a well-planned journey. You need to know your destination before you start your trip. Clarity of purpose guides your content, tone, and overall strategy. It gives your presentation direction and ensures that you don't veer off course.

Image depicting three parts of creating a Precise Plan for data communication planning

Data Storytelling Strategic Communication Plan

Developing a precise plan in the form of a single statement for the creation of your data story presentation is the goal of data communication planning.   A Data Communication Planning worksheet like this one from Periscope BPA which is used as part of Data Storytelling Essentials training, can assist leaders in developing effective data communication practices. 


The free downloadable Data Communication Planning: Precise Plan Worksheet for Data Storytelling Essentials is a resource to help you develop a data storytelling strategic communication plan. 



Start your data story by clarifying your precise plan.  Effective data stories start with knowing what you hope to accomplish, with whom you are going to be sharing it, and for what purpose.  A precise plan is a guide for every other decision in the data storytelling process, including how to organize your presentation.

 

Identify Your Big Idea

The concept of the Precise Plan is grounded in the principles outlined by Nancy Duarte in her book, "Resonate" (2010). Duarte emphasizes the importance of the Big Idea, which is essentially a concise, impactful sentence that not only articulates your viewpoint but also conveys what is at stake. In the realm of data storytelling, this Big Idea serves as the central thesis that underpins your entire narrative.


A link to a copy of the Big Idea worksheet as developed by 'storytelling with data' can be found on the PeriscopeBPA.com toolbox page.

 

Big Idea Examples

For the purposes of this article, we'll start with the following two examples of a Big Idea to build upon:


Community Outreach Example

 "Our community outreach initiative has significantly reduced homelessness rates, and, in light of this success, we propose increasing our outreach efforts to further alleviate the housing crisis in our city."


Telehealth Example

“Our telehealth implementation has increased access to healthcare services, particularly in underserved communities, highlighting the need to invest further in virtual care solutions for enhanced patient experiences.”

 

These examples illustrate the Nancy Duarte's Big Idea.  The Big Idea encapsulates the core message and the significance of the data story.


Know Your Audience

One of the most critical aspects of successful communication is identifying, understanding, and adapting the presentation of your data story to meet the needs of your audience.  From format to content, a strategic data communication plan keeps the intended audience front and center.  The best audience analysis tools for data storytelling take into account the degree of interest and influence of your audience as well as constraints such as time, data literacy and context.


A stakeholder audience analysis matrix is shown with Influence on the Y axis and Interest on the X axis

Consider our community outreach Big Idea example above.  Sharing that message in a presentation to city council should look and feel different than sharing that message with community volunteers doing the outreach. Likewise, in the telehealth example, the data presentation will be different to the C-Suite versus the Tech Suite. 


Identifying the stakeholder needs of your audience will help guide other presentation decisions, including data story format, language, and complexity.  This information also helps guide the call to action. 

 

Clarify Your Intent

Before embarking on the journey of crafting your speech or presentation, it's imperative to establish a clear and pragmatic intent. Why are you taking the stage in front of your audience? Are you aiming to convince or compel them? Each of these objectives demands a distinct approach and aligns with a related yet distinct outcome.


Clarifying the degree of intent feasibility is an important part of data communication planning because it will help you create and assess realistic goals.  This crucial step assists you in formulating and evaluating achievable goals, ultimately shaping the format and content of your data story presentation.

An Intent continuum is shown with Convince to the far left and Compel to the far right

While both ends of the intent continuum are inherently persuasive, the ultimate goal may vary in intensity. On the "convince" end of the spectrum, the objective might be seen as eliciting passive agreement. Your persuasive intent here could be as straightforward as seeking agreement, gaining support, or convincing your audience of the inherent value of your message. This approach is particularly suitable when dealing with an audience that may be initially resistant to or unfamiliar with your Big Idea.


Conversely, the "compel" end of the spectrum involves a more direct call to action. The art of persuasion often unfolds incrementally, with audiences typically needing to be convinced before they can be compelled into immediate action.

 

Putting it All Together

As strategic communication planning for your data storytelling, creating a Precise Plan involves combing INTENT + AUDIENCE + BIG IDEA.


A data communication planning Precise Plan fill in the blank template is provided; this image is from the Precise Plan worksheet


Let’s take our community outreach example from earlier.  The following two Precise Plans would arrive at two differently presented data stories:


  • To convince City Council that our community outreach initiative has significantly reduced homelessness rates, and, in light of this success, we propose increasing our outreach efforts to further alleviate the housing crisis in our city.

  • To compel our organization’s Volunteers that our community outreach initiative has significantly reduced homelessness rates, and, in light of this success, we propose increasing our outreach efforts to further alleviate the housing crisis in our city.

 

Likewise, if we look at the telehealth example, the following to data presentations would look and feel differently if the precise plans were written as:


  • To convince Physicians that our telehealth implementation has increased access to healthcare services, particularly in underserved communities, highlighting the need to invest further in virtual care solutions for enhanced patient experiences

  • To compel our Senior Administration that our telehealth implementation has increased access to healthcare services, particularly in underserved communities, highlighting the need to invest further in virtual care solutions for enhanced patient experiences


Each of these presentations may be built from the same core idea but would be most effective when adapted to the audience.  The role of iteration in strategic data visualization is essential to the adaptation of the goals of your precise plan.


Summary

In the world of data presentation and effective communication, success begins with a data communication plan. This article includes a downloadable PDF data communication planning worksheet to help you better develop your own data story. 


Being clear on your purpose, understanding your audience, and having achievable goals are the building blocks of a successful presentation. These elements work together to create an impactful plan for a data presentation communication experience.

 
profile photo of blog author

Roseanna Galindo, ECBA, CAVS is Principal at Periscope Business Process Analysis and a champion for data literacy, the human experience in healthcare, and leaders of volunteers everywhere.

Learn more about Roseanna and her blog, The Periscope Insighter, by reading the opening post, Venn The Time Is Right

Roseanna is available for training, keynotes, and executive coaching. Visit PeriscopeBPA.com for more information. 

If you have found this article insightful, please share on social to help other like-minded business leaders to find their way here.

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