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How to Decide on a Data Story Format: A Guide

Are you using the most effective method of presentation to share your data story? Have you considered your options?


Having a compelling data story to share is very empowering and the urge can be great to share it immediately with an audience in the most convenient form. Whether your goal is to convince or to compel, how you choose to deliver your data story will make a difference.


a young professional stands at a laptop computer presenting a data story to an unseen audience

Knowing how to deliver your data story will ensure that the audience that it is in front of is more likely to act upon it. Not all data storytelling methods of presentation will be as effective with all audiences, so use this guide as a story crafting tool to help you decide which format is the best choice for the analytical business story that you are telling.


WHAT IS A DATA STORY

Let’s start by defining what we mean by “data story”. As data has become the primary language of business, terms like ‘data visualization’, “data story”, “data sharing”, and the like, have entered our lexicon.


Data stories are sometimes also referred to as analytical or visual stories. Data storytelling takes data visualization to the next level by weaving it into a narrative that takes the viewer on a journey, much as a traditional story might.



A data story can be a collection of visualizations, such as an annual report or presentation, or it may even be presented as a single slide, an email or infographic posted on social media.


If data is the language of business, then data visualizations are the words and phrases that we form, and the data story is the resulting narrative that is shaped from them through the use of story crafting tools.


TAILORING TO SUIT

How you present your data story will be determined in large part by the needs and constraints of your audience. When planning for your data communication, establishing a precise plan that clearly identifies your purpose and audience will guide you in selecting the best way to present your data story.


Constraints such as the time and attention that the audience will be able to devote to the story or how familiar they are with the data being shared are among the factors that should be considered when selecting a format for the delivery of your data story.

a group of well dressed business people watch an unseen presenter

When developing narrative for a data story, there are three story crafting tools that I like to suggest using together as a framework. The first is identifying which of the ten types of business stories that you are trying to tell, the second tool is the narrative design of the data story arc, and the third is adapting to your audience. When developing your data narrative, tailoring your data story to fit the needs of your audience is an essential part of the process.


A GUIDE TO SELECTING A DATA STORY FORMAT

The following guide provides seven format style options for your data story delivery. Each method is described, along with audience and context factors that will assist you in selecting the most effective style for your data story.


DATA STORY FORMAT #1 | THE ANNUAL REPORT

An annual report is a comprehensive document that summarizes a company's financial performance, achievements, and future outlook over the course of a year.


Audience: Annual reports are primarily designed for external stakeholders, including investors, shareholders, regulators, and the public. They are a legal requirement for publicly traded companies.


Distinguishing Factors: Annual reports are detailed and often legally mandated documents that provide a comprehensive overview of a company's operations, financial health, and corporate governance.


DATA STORY FORMAT #2 | THE BUSINESS BRIEF

A business brief is a concise document that summarizes key information or recommendations related to a specific business topic or issue.


Audience: Business briefs can be used for both internal and external audiences, depending on the context. They are often used for internal decision-making or shared with external partners or clients.


Distinguishing Factors: Business briefs are short, focused, and aim to provide actionable insights or recommendations in a format that is easily digestible.


DATA STORY FORMAT #3 | EMAIL

Email presentations involve communicating information or updates via email, which can include text, attachments, or links to external resources.


Audience: Emails can be used for both internal and external communication. They are commonly used for quick updates, announcements, or sharing documents.


Distinguishing Factors: Emails are a widely used, asynchronous communication method that can reach a broad audience. They are particularly effective for written communication and document sharing.


DATA STORY FORMAT #4 | THE SINGLE SLIDE

A single slide presentation is a concise and visually impactful way to communicate key information, often through a single PowerPoint or other presentation software.


Audience: Single slides are versatile and can be used for both internal and external audiences. They are suitable for quick updates, pitches, or presentations where brevity is essential.


Distinguishing Factors: The primary distinguishing factor is its brevity and simplicity, making it effective for conveying a single, important message.


an example of a data story shared as a single slide
An example of a single slide data story.

DATA STORY FORMAT #5 | THE SLIDE DECK PRESENTATION

This format involves a slide deck accompanied by a spoken presentation, typically in a live or recorded format.


Audience: Slide decks with spoken presentations are commonly used for both internal and external audiences. They are suitable for formal presentations, webinars, or virtual meetings.


Distinguishing Factors: The live or recorded spoken component allows for dynamic explanations and interactions, making it suitable for more complex topics or audience engagement.


DATA STORY FORMAT #6 | THE STAND-ALONE SLIDE DECK

A stand-alone slide deck consists of multiple slides that provide a more detailed and structured presentation of information, often without a live presenter.


Audience: While standalone slide decks are often used for internal purposes like team meetings or training, they can also be shared with external audiences for informational purposes.


Distinguishing Factors: These decks offer a deeper dive into a topic compared to a single slide and are ideal for self-paced learning or when a presenter isn't available.



DATA STORY FORMAT #7 | SOCIAL MEDIA POSTS

Social media delivery involves sharing information, updates, or content through social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Instagram.


Audience: Social media posts can reach a wide external audience, including customers, partners, followers, and the general public.


Distinguishing Factors: Social media presentations are highly accessible and interactive, allowing for real-time engagement and feedback. They are ideal for reaching a broad online audience and promoting content or announcements.



PLAN WITH PRECISION

When choosing your data story format, keep the audience front and center. An effective data story is audience-centric and should be driven by your precise plan. During the data communication planning stage of your story’s development, you should be able to articulate the precise plan for your data story. Identifying not only the purpose of the story, but also the audience with whom the story will be shared.


a busy executive team meets around a board room table

Understanding what is important to an audience, and why, is a core part of creating a data narrative. With data communication there is the additional factor of your audience’s familiarity with the analytics as well as the context. Additionally, analysis of the situation provides insight into constraints that may be present due to occasion and relationship.

For example, if your data story is to being shared with an executive team as part of a larger organizational presentation, a single slide may provide you the best opportunity to get your message heard.



SUMMARY

Selecting the data story delivery format that will most effectively communicate your message is an essential step in the data storytelling process. From annual reports to a single slide in a live presentation, each format shares the same ideas in different ways. Deciding on how to best delivery your data story is guided by your understanding of the stakeholders with whom the story will be shared. The data story format guide in this article offers seven distinct options for sharing a data story. Selecting the best format with which to deliver your data story will help to deliver it with impact.

 
profile photo of the blog author Roseanna Galindo

Roseanna Galindo, ECBA, CAVS

Roseanna Galindo 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 Data Storytelling Essentials training, keynotes, and executive coaching. Visit PeriscopeBPA.com for more information.

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