Santa Cruz Tech Beat


How to Turn Your Data into a Compelling Story

By Shanann Monaghan
Looker Customer Marketing Manager

August 31, 2017 — Santa Cruz, CA

At Looker, we get excited about data. How many people voted in the last presidential election? Who were those people? Who gets the most screen time in Game of Thrones? What can data tell us about building our Fantasy Football draft?

But as data people, we also know that data on it’s own isn’t always enough to insight action.

Humans think in stories

It’s true. As a species, we’re hardwired to relate thoughts through images and stories. For example, if you tell someone: “Quarterbacks are reliable players in Fantasy Football, Running Backs are not” they will find it interesting, sure… but what actual value is there in that information? They need to feel a connection to the data in order to apply it to themselves.

However, if you say: “Data shows that NFL Quarterbacks are being strategically protected from injuries by their organizations, making them the most reliable picks for Fantasy performance, over the past 8 seasons. Running backs on the other hand, get hurt pretty frequently and are therefore extremely unreliable, with only one player making a repeat appearance at top spot in the last 8 years.”

Now that is something they’re going to remember when they’re putting together their Fantasy draft.

If you can learn to present your data through a compelling story, you’ll have a sure-fire recipe for success.

To help you better understand, consider this point made by Tomasz Tunguz in his book, Winning with Data:

“In its simplest form, a story is a connection between cause and effect. Peter tricks the villagers too many times with a false “Wolf” cry. For his transgression, he suffers the loss of his flock. When Aesop wrote his fables, he inculcated in Greek children a sense of cause-and-effect relationships that would serve them all their lives. Like those morals, the implications of data are best conveyed through stories.” — Tomasz Tunguz, Winning with Data

Data Stories at JOIN 2017

This year we’ve lined up 12 stellar Data Stories presented by Looker customers Buzzfeed, Autodesk, Twilio, Blue Apron, GitHub and more! We’ve asked them to stand up at JOIN – Looker’s annual data conference – and tell stories around their data.

Extremely popular with JOIN attendees, it’s always interesting to hearing their stories around how they became data-centric, chasing data, finding value in data, creative uses for data, etc.

Here are the top tips we’ve shared with our presenters to create compelling data stories:

  1. Test your story idea. Once you’ve come up with an idea, we suggest you write it down in one or two sentences and then ask yourself – is my idea or story new? Is my idea interesting? Is it factual and realistic? Can the call to action be executed? What is your thesis? Does it matter?
  2. Create a beginning, a middle and an end. Most stories involve a problem or a conflict and a resolution. Resolutions usually teach a lesson or prove a point, in other words they have a thesis that the whole story leads up to proving.
  3. Plan …
  4. Keep …
  5. Practice …
  6. Have …

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