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Telling A Story With Data

Telling a story with data

In this article, our strategy director Gillian Grant has pulled together her top tips for structuring your data presentation to give it the personality and business impact it deserves.

It’s fair to say that, for most of us, the thought of having to present ‘results’ or ‘findings’ can be intimidating. We know how important it is to demonstrate these things but how can we present them in a way that’s easy to interpret and helps to inform future business decisions? And, particularly in the marketing industry, how do we craft this information so that it’s engaging and entertaining?

It can be such a chicken and egg situation; where do we start; is it finding the data to support the theory or looking at the data and developing theories from there?


The strategist in me will always start with the audience. In this situation, I don’t mean the audience that the project was designed to target, but, rather, the audience who will be viewing the data. Ask yourself: “What is the one thing I want them to do as a result of this presentation?”.

For example, if it’s the Finance Director, you might want more budget from them so using the data to demonstrate ROI will be fundamental. Or maybe it’s the CEO? You probably want them to recognise that your work is having impact and you understand the long-term picture of where that work is going. In that scenario, using the data to demonstrate market projections and opportunities will back up your plans.

By starting with the viewers' desired context, you can start to gather data that helps to narrate the story you want to tell.

Structure to the story

Once you’ve established the audience need, it’s time to start considering how you can structure the data to make your story a great one. I usually start with a framework similar to this:

  • Beginning: Background on the current situation and why this piece of work is/was needed.
  • Middle: Data that supports and further demonstrates the current situation, all the while asking: Are the challenges really challenges or opportunities? And what do we know that backs that information up and how does it affect us? Consider the business, the target audience and the industry.
  • The ‘twist’: Your big idea, Here’s where you show the major finding or key insight from the data.
  • End: The solve, here you'll wrap up with the actions that are going to overcome those challenges.

Start with the middle

Finding the right data to support your key points can be tricky. But starting with the data that demonstrates the current situation will help you form the problems that need overcome more clearly. This then helps you build the picture of additional data you need to gather to overcome those challenges within the current picture. And should, hopefully, with the right team, make it easy to identify solves and next steps to overcome those challenges.

Visual cues

A final point on visualising the data. Adobe state that visuals make it 60,000 times faster to interpret data. But a good rule of thumb is to consider whether a chart or visual provides context, draws attention, and leads to actions. If it’s not possible to do this with a chart, then don’t include it and simply add it in as a data headline instead.

You can see some great examples of data visualisation and storytelling on these links:

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About the author

Gill has over 15 years of agency experience spanning the utilities, financial, arts, charity, and museum sectors. In her work, Gill brings a unique blend of audience insight and business leadership knowledge to support LEWIS’ clients to make an impact both internally and externally.

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