Told a Good (Data) Story Lately? Part 1


Have you ever thought of storytelling as a venue for increasing sales? A recent article in Forbes says it succinctly: People hear statistics, but they feel stories.1 According to Forbes, when you package business data into a story, you help your audience move from the logical side of the brain to the emotional side of the brain.

Do you have a way to gather trustworthy data?

How data storytelling works

Consider parents deciding between two sports leagues for their child. Both locations are convenient, costs are similar, and times are workable. How would the parent choose between leagues?

Immediately, emotion becomes a big factor. All things being equal, the parent will pick the league that tells the best story—about its athletes’ success and sportsmanship, its coaches’ backgrounds, or its community spirit.

Neuroscientists have confirmed that decisions often are based on emotion, says Brent Dykes, director of data strategy at Domo, who wrote the Forbes article. “Emotion actually plays an essential role in helping our brains to navigate the alternatives and arrive at a timely decision.”

A story about how data storytelling can help your business

Let’s say the director of an overnight summer camp called Snooze-ya-Lose wants to reach teenagers. She’s noticed that when kids become teenagers, fewer of them return to camp. Reaching this age group always has been part of her overall vision, so she explore the numbers. After running a simple report, she confirms that camp registrations drop off significantly at the age of 16.

Now, she’s curious about why. Her next step might be to survey parents of 16-year olds who didn’t return to camp. She reexamines her camp’s offerings for 15-year-olds and compares them to other camps. Finally, she catches up on any new research about camp benefits for older teenagers and confirm: Teenagers can gain as much or more from camp as younger campers.

Crafting the data story

Camp Snooze-ya-Lose’s director is equipped with new data. And she has confirmed her outreach vision. Now, she packages her business data with visuals and narratives to tell a Camp Snooze-ya-Lose’s data story that addresses a benefit of camp that aligns with parents’ reasons for not supporting camp for their teenss. She could also launch a data story targeting 16-18 year olds, enticing them to reconsider camp themselves.

  • Lead with strong numbers.

Leading youth researchers The Peanut Gallery reported that camp-going teenagers rock the house. Despite the fact that reaching teenagers has always been central to our vision at Camp Snooze-ya-Lose, recent numbers indicate that camper registration drops 42% after the age of 15.

  • Illustrate your stats with a chart or graph.

To explore this issue, Camp Snooze-ya-lose surveyed parents with non-returning kids in that age group and found:


  • Tell a human narrative (true or fictionalized, using images or video) that addresses one or more of the problem your data reveals, perhaps that parents aren’t aware of an important aspect of teen well-being that Camp Snooze-ya-Lose addresses:

Anna’s story

Eleventh grade was a tough year for Anna’s friendships. In her circle of friends that had been tight since middle school, one girl started experimenting with destructive behaviors. Before long, the entire group was veering in the wrong direction. When Anna didn’t join their newfound “fun,” her weekends got lonely—fast.

The year at school never got easier, but Anna claims that her camp friends got her though it.  Their shared values and history at Camp Snooze-ya-lose helped Anna stay grounded in her healthy identity. Daily contact via texts and social media made her feel surrounded by good friends, even during lonely weekends.

At Camp Snooze-ya-lose 39% of teen-aged campers surveyed said they maintain frequent contact (at least once-per-week) with camp friends. …

See how it works? The right data+visual+narrative makes a compelling data story that can “engage an audience and influence change,” according to Dykes. Anna’s story taps into parental fears of negative influences of their teens’ friends.

Where do I start?

The first step is to start capturing the data itself. Camp management software with a reporting feature, like Camp & Class Manager, helps you get the numbers you need to tell your story.

Next week, we’ll dig deeper into data storytelling with more advice from the experts.


1Forbes: Data Storytelling: The Essential Data Science Skill Everyone Needs