The Power of Story

I’m sure you can vividly recall an event or idea that shifted your thinking. Something that left you transformed…So maybe you don’t. I sure can’t, and I think it’s because when this event/meme transforms you, you internalise the ideas to the extent of supplanting your old thinking with your new thinking. Much like the perceptual illusion of the young women and the old lady, once you see the old lady, it’s difficult to ‘unsee’ her.

This is the power of story telling done well.

Data analysis and -visualization should be beholden to the same standard, if you can’t clearly communicate what you’ve discovered in the data, the reader walks away thinking “Huh, interesting” and never engages with the work or considers it again. It’s up to those with the domain knowledge to cradle the findings in context, the analysis should be able to answer the question “Why should I care?” You have to aim to shift the reader’s understanding so that they themselves become transformed, and even evangelical of the ideas put forth.

In this vein, check out Nancy Duarte from Duarte, the creators of amazing presentations. About two thirds in, she explains how good communicators make use of a certain story telling pattern. And of course one of the images that stood out for me was the visualization used to dissect Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s I had a Dream speech – a thing of beauty. (It also made me think of Ben Fry’s Traces.)

Having seen what can be done with presentations, like those created by Duarte, I for one won’t be going back – transformed!

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About Charles Crous

Data visualisation in support of better decision-making is my passion. I'm a data enthusiast. An ardent knowledge-seeker, trying to understanding the relationships between data points one data set a time.

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