Storytelling with Data: How Organizations Can Use Data to Communicate Impact
This blog post was adapted from one originally published by Asemio LLC, where APDU board member Aaron Bean is Managing Director. The original post can be found here.
Want to learn how to put the recommendations below into action and tell more effective stories with data? Register now for APDU’s upcoming Data Storytelling webinar, offered virtually December 5th, 7th, 12th, and 14th, from 3-5pm (ET).
Powerful Stories Powered by Data
Data has a profound ability to illuminate narratives that touch the heart and soul. Numbers are also lives changed, pounds of food on tables, and roofs over heads. A single statistic has the power to transform raw data into a conduit of empathy, bridging the gap between numbers and the emotions that define our shared humanity.
How To Tell Stories That Resonate
All of that preamble sounds nice, but how do we make it actionable? Here are a few suggestions for integrating data into your storytelling efforts:
Visualize Your Impact
Show, don’t tell. Graphs and charts take center stage when it comes to communicating powerful statements instantly, when it might otherwise take paragraphs. They are excellent tools for showing progress and trends. Take care not to overwhelm your audience by sharing too much in one graph. The key lies in accessibility—making data not only available but also digestible for individuals of all backgrounds.
Instead of Data Points, Think People
We live in a moment where AI-created content is hard to discern from human-created content, which is why personalization is more crucial than ever. It’s not enough to just hear a person’s story. How widespread are the problems that person is experiencing? How many other people would benefit from the services you provide? You’ll make numbers relatable, and you’ll provide justification for community investment. For a beautiful example of this, listen to the first episode of Asemio Decoded, “A Backpack for Harley,” with special guest Rev. Jeff Jaynes of Restore Hope.
Create a Compelling Plot
In the same way a well-plotted story has a clear beginning, middle, and end, data narratives should also be structured for clarity and engagement. Start by grabbing attention with key metrics or urgent needs, then build tension by showing challenges or gaps that need to be addressed and conclude by presenting outcomes or solutions that satisfy the initial set-up.
Do this, and you’ll make data a strategic tool that keeps stakeholders not just informed but invested in your organization’s mission.
Master the Art of Simplicity
Kill your darlings. I took a creative writing course in college where my instructor encouraged us to “kill our darlings.” In other words, don’t get too attached to your creations. If your words don’t advance the plot or serve a broader purpose, let them go. Nearly twenty years later, I still heed this advice and the wisdom is just as valuable when it comes to sharing data. You may have an absolute feast of data to share with the world, but if you share it all at once, you will only overwhelm your audience. Pick your most compelling points. Cull the rest. Let your story shine.
Data can be a powerful emotional driver when presented effectively. Use key metrics to highlight urgent issues or demonstrate positive impact, converting abstract stats into relatable stories. Through clear visuals and straightforward narratives, make the highs and lows of your mission palpable. This not only illustrates your impact but also creates a compelling call to action for stakeholders.
Use Data as the Plot Twist
Data can serve as the unexpected twist in your narrative that keeps your audience engaged. Present findings that defy common assumptions or reveal new challenges or opportunities. A well-placed data point can act like a plot twist, causing your audience to rethink their views and deepening their understanding of an issue. It’s not just about presenting facts but about strategically using them to change perspectives.
Call to Action: Empower Your Audience
The culmination of your data narrative should be a concrete call to action that leverages the emotional and intellectual engagement you’ve built up. Use impactful metrics to quantify the change that can be achieved—like how many lives can be improved or problems solved—if the audience takes the suggested action. By grounding your call to action in solid data, you give your audience a clear and compelling reason to move from passive consumption of information to active involvement in your mission. This showcases the ultimate power of a data-informed narrative: to inspire immediate and tangible action.
Data is a crucial tool that, when combined with effective storytelling, can lead to meaningful change. Data provides the evidence and credibility, while stories add the emotional pull. Together, they create a powerful narrative that appeals to both reason and emotion. Remember that storytelling powered by credible data isn’t just informative—it’s a call to action. It’s a way to move your audience from awareness to engagement, creating real-world impact that goes far beyond mere numbers.
Asemio is the technology, data, and consulting firm for mission-based nonprofit, government, and philanthropic organizations that are addressing today’s social problems and underserved communities. With a special focus in Salesforce, consulting, data analytics, and custom software development, Asemio equips clients with the data they need to do good. Aaron Bean, Managing Director of Asemio, currently serves as a board member-at-large for the Association of Public Data Users.