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on July 14, 2022 (last modified on April 12, 2023) • 13 minute read
“Sometimes reality is too complex. Stories give it form,” said Jean Luc Godard. A quote fully applicable to data.
Data may often seem complex and challenging to present in a comprehensible way, especially when your audience doesn’t have a high level of data knowledge. However, more and more companies aim to make data-driven decisions nowadays, so you’re likely to be in a situation where you need data to make your case or justify your budget.
Whether you’re presenting to your manager, senior management, or shareholders, your best bet is to create a compelling story using your data.
That’s where dashboard presentations and storytelling step in.
In this article, you’ll learn:
Dashboard storytelling is the process of creating a compelling narrative around your data and KPIs to illustrate your business performance and influence your audience in a way, usually through interactive, engaging visualizations.
Dashboards allow you to present your narrative in an easy-to-understand manner and adapt it to the audience you’re reporting to. Through dashboard storytelling, you combine the power of stories to engage the listeners and the conclusiveness of the real-time data presented through graphs, charts, tables, and more.
Related: How to Visualize Data: 6 Rules, Tips and Best Practices
Storytelling is a powerful marketing tool because it helps you relate to your audience and sound compelling. So, what are the benefits of using dashboards to tell stories about your data? Here are 4 ways dashboard storytelling helps you present your data in a more convincing way.
We surveyed 46 companies about dashboards and storytelling. The respondents come from:
Over 96% of survey participants have been using both dashboards and storytelling to convey their messages, while the rest of the participants would like to try.
The companies we surveyed give almost equal importance to both dashboards and storytelling: 52% of respondents gave their vote to storytelling, while 48% of them consider dashboard presentations should have more emphasis. However, almost all participants in the survey agree that data visualization is very important for overall success of dashboard storytelling.
If you’re only getting started with dashboard storytelling and ditch the basic reports, these three tips will help you fast-track your first presentation.
Not every type of data will work with every type of visualization, so take your time to carefully review your options and choose the most suitable chart, graph, table, or another visualization for your data. For example, bar charts are excellent for showing progress over time, while pie charts work best to display data distribution.
Your narrative should be simple, which means too much industry jargon may make you sound incomprehensible. Your audience may not understand all the terms you use, especially if you’re presenting to other teams or the C-suite. Technical jargon and popular buzzwords don’t contribute any value to your presentation, while simple language can boost its efficiency and clarity.
People love to listen to stories regardless of the topic, but can only follow if there’s a logical order of events. A well-organized dashboard will make sure your report tells a story explaining the causes, and consequences of different activities that impacted your performance. Keeping your focus on point and clearly communicating the purpose of your presentation will help you deliver value.
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Here is an example of what your dashboard can look like… (just imagine your data populating here)
And here’s another one…
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To collect the best tips on making a meaningful dashboard presentation, we asked companies from various industries to share their experience. Among our respondents, there are almost 24% of marketing, digital, and media consultants and agencies, around 35% of B2B companies, and around 41% of B2C products or service providers.
The participants in our survey consider marketing dashboards the most inspiring one for storytelling: 39% of companies gave it their vote. Other common answers included overall business, customer support, and sales dashboards.
Here are the 6 best practices we singled out to ensure you make a meaningful dashboard presentation.
Structure gives your presentation clarity and logical flow, so before you dive deep into the data itself and storytelling, create a presentation outline. The outline will help you build your story around key points and maintain focus throughout.
Vishal Srivastava of Trainedge Consulting Pvt Ltd recommends the GIFBP framework for this purpose.
“It stands for Goals, Issues, Features, Benefits and Proof. I pick data/visualization from dashboards to go with each section of the story. The key is to keep the story short and focused, which means using the most appropriate chart/illustration. Using too many can cause data overload and confusion, so you need to be careful about what you represent,” explains Srivastava and gives an example:
“Let’s say I am sharing monthly inbound performance for a self-service SaaS product. The goal here is the monthly growth in MRR or a target MRR. So the first slide will compare the actual MRR with the target. The Issues element focuses on what is preventing us from achieving the goal or could do that in the coming months. No more than 3 Issues, backed by data – falling trial signup rate/paid conversion rates, slower traffic growth, topping out high converting traffic from search, etc.
The Features section will highlight what we are doing to stay the course or pre-empt future issues. Back that up with data about progress made. The benefits section lists out how the actions will help us hit the goal in the future. The Proof section lists out evidence, in the form of charts/data, to show that the actions are actually moving the needle in the right direction.”
Asking the right data analysis questions can help you determine which top issues you will present in your dashboard. For example:
Your dashboard presentation doesn’t need to occur in a solemn atmosphere: storytelling works better if intertwined with anecdotes and real-life examples and experiences. The human touch makes your story more relatable.
Showing a bit of emotion will make your message more compelling, especially if you focus on personalizing the story. Whether it’s your own anecdote or a funny story from your client, adding an emotional aspect to it can help connect all story elements together in a more effective way. Peter Lee of Famlee Digital confirms that adding a personal touch can boost the presentation:
“For my business, I’ve found that being able to tell the story of what has happened, what is happening, and what we predict will happen has been really beneficial. Each client is addressed on a personal basis relevant to their business,” says Peter.
Audience should come first—while creating the presentation, think about what’s in it for your listeners, whether they’re your team members, business partners, shareholders, managers, or clients. Answer the questions such as who they are and what they’re expecting from the presentation.
“Once you know that, you can start planning your presentation. You should focus on metrics and results. How did things go? What did we achieve? What changes will we make in order to improve future processes? This way, audience members will not only be informed but also inspired by what they heard or saw. I also recommend keeping an eye on future steps and keeping them in mind when planning your presentation because it will help you stay focused on what really matters: goals,” says Masha Mahdavi of SEM Dynamics.
Leszek Dudkiewicz of Passport Photo Online agrees that “listening to a presentation containing only text and illustrations is tedious. The more boring the presentation is, the harder it is for the audience to keep their attention on its content.” Stories you can base on interactive dashboards help you keep your audience engaged.
Before you start telling the story, the audience should know what its purpose is and what value you’re going to deliver.
“In my experience, the most important practice to use in dashboard storytelling is to put the audience first. At the end of the day, your audience will always ask, “What’s in it for me?”, says Caitlyn Parish of Cicinia Bridesmaid Dresses.
To make the value of the presentation clear to your audience, state the purpose right at the beginning.
“Every story needs to start with a purpose. We ask questions concerning the major takeaway that our data story presents. We always ensure that our end goal is to influence our audience to take specific action”, says David Antoni of Virtocommerce.
The more actionable the presentation, the better. After all, the main reporting goal is to plan the next steps to maintain great performance or improve it as needed.
Multiple approaches may work for different audiences, so be prepared to test several ways to tell a story with your data. Some audiences will love to participate and ask questions, while others will want you to be as concise as possible and give them the main takeaways only.
We already mentioned one possible framework for a dashboard presentation. Here’s another suggestion from Vanda Mahas of Code200:
“We prefer using the CAR framework – analyze context, hypothesis and take action, and review results. We use graphs or other visuals from the dashboard for providing context to the hypotheses”, shares Mahas.
The story based on the data on your dashboard should have a logical flow and lead to specific conclusions.
That can also include the use of visualizations and colors—make sure you use the same visualization types for similar data sets, as it’ll allow the audience to understand the dashboard better. That way, your listeners will be able to understand the key points: what is happening, why it might be happening, and what should be done about it.
Maria McDowell of EasySearchPeople explains what her process of preparing a dashboard presentation looks like:
“I usually start collecting and arranging the data I have, setting an outline and flow for the presentation, then I start building my presentation. I like to keep an eye on consistency and flow. I like to be sure that the copy remains on topic and that the story flows well for the audience.”
Again, the key is to focus on the audience—if you lose the flow in your story, the lack of clarity may also cost you the engagement from your audience.
“I also keep the audience in mind, who is the audience? What are their needs? What am I presenting to them? In what format would they prefer to see it?”, asks McDowell.
To illustrate the points we’ve made so far, we’re sharing a few dashboard presentation examples of storytelling opportunities that will help you create memorable interactive reports.
The Single Metric Performance over Time dashboard allows you to create a narrative around the progress of a chosen metric. From this dashboard, you can easily evaluate your efforts over a specific time period and determine whether they’ve given the desired results.
If you need to track the efficiency of your strategy, whether it’s marketing or sales, and present your performance in front of your managers, the Progress Towards Goals dashboard is ideal. Here, you can track even short-term goals and make sure you’re on the right track every step of the way.
When you need to deep dive into the details of why traffic drops or spikes are happening on your website, so you can fix the issue or grab the opportunity, you need a drill-down report. The Multi-Parameter Comparisons dashboard is a great choice to analyze several metrics that influence your overall performance, all at once.
Reports don’t have to be endless, boring, and monotonous. They can be fun, engaging, and beautiful.
By using dashboards to tell stories about your performance, successes, and lessons, you can streamline your reporting process, make it more interactive, and speed up the actionable steps that will follow each dashboard presentation.
But do you need to create dashboards and reports from scratch every time you have a presentation?
With Databox, you don’t. You can choose from hundreds of templates available in our library and customize the dashboard to fit your requirements. Connect your dashboard to virtually any data source from our list of 100+ integrations and track your performance from any device.
Want to learn more about how Databox works? Create a free account today and start telling memorable stories with your data.
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