Wednesday, December 18, 2013

quick reflection on the past 3 years

I've been debating whether to write and publish some sort of "best of 2013" post. While reflecting back over the past year, it occurred to me that I originally launched this blog in December. Which means it is currently anniversary month. I could have sworn I've been doing this for two years, but as I look back at the date stamps, I see that the very first post (5 easy tips) that launched www.storytellingwithdata.com was 12/9/10.

Which means it's actually been 3 years.

My, how time has flown by.

On the personal side, this time has been marked by death and birth, divorce and marriage, new cities and known cities, and probably a number of other dichotomies. On the work front, I've been very lucky to be able to grow storytelling with data from a side project into my focus, through this blog and an increasing number of public (including upcoming sessions in Boston & DC in early 2014) and custom workshops throughout the world. It's been an amazing adventure and I'm excited for what the future will bring.

I'll keep this reflection relatively short. It seems unfitting to write a post like this without some links back to historical posts, so I'll list for you the top 10 most-viewed posts to date:
  1. how to do it in excel
  2. no more excuses for bad simple charts: here's a template
  3. the waterfall chart
  4. my penchant for horizontal bar graphs
  5. strategies for avoiding the spaghetti graph
  6. chart chooser
  7. logic in order
  8. and the winner is...
  9. slopegraph template
  10. the power of simple text
Very big thanks to everyone who is reading this. I wish you and your loved ones a fantastic holiday season. I look forward to continuing to learn and share with you in 2014.

On that note, if there are any specific topics you'd like me to focus on here in the near year, please leave a comment with your idea(s).

Happy holidays!

Friday, December 6, 2013

a fresh perspective

This is the final post in the series on helping ensure the story you aim to tell is coming across effectively in your communication. Prior posts have been on horizontal logic, vertical logic, Bing, Bang, Bongo, and reverse storyboarding.

Today, we'll briefly discuss the value of soliciting a fresh perspective.

Once you've crafted your communication, give it to a friend or colleague. It can be someone without any context (it's actually helpful if it is someone without any context, because this puts them in a much closer position to your audience than you can be given your intimate knowledge of the subject matter). Have them talk out loud through what they pay attention to, what they think is important, where they have questions. This will help you understand whether the communication you've crafted is telling the story you mean to tell, or in the case where it isn't exactly, help you understand where to concentrate your iterations.

There is immense value in getting a fresh perspective when it comes to communicating with data in general. As we become subject matter experts in our space, it becomes impossible for us to take a step back and look at what we've created (whether a single graph or a full presentation) through our audience's eyes. But that doesn't mean you can't see what they see. Leverage a friend or colleague for their fresh perspective. Help ensure your communication hits the mark.

This ends my series of posts on concepts that can help ensure the story you want to tell comes across clearly in your communication. Here's a quick recap of the concepts we've covered (click the blue text to see the full related post):
  • Horizontal logic: if you read through just the headlines, they tell your story.
  • Vertical logic: everything on a single slide is reinforcing.
  • Bing, bang, bongo: tell your audience what you're going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you just told them.
  • Reverse storyboarding: flip through the pages and write down the main point from each; this should reveal clear logic and progression and tell the overall story you're aiming for.
  • A fresh perspective: seek input and feedback from others to refine your story.
What other methods do you use as you craft and refine your storytelling with data?
Leave a comment with your thoughts!

While I have your attention: I've just scheduled a public workshop in DC in February (details) and am in the process of finalizing a Boston session - details forthcoming. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

reverse storyboarding

This is the fourth (and penultimate) post in a series on helping ensure your story comes across effectively in your communication. Prior posts have been on the topics of horizontal logic, vertical logic, and Bing, Bang, Bongo.

Today, we'll briefly discuss reverse storyboarding.

When you storyboard at the onset of building a communication, you craft the outline of the story you intend to tell. As the name implies, reverse storyboarding does the opposite. You take the final communication, flip through it, and write down the main point from each page (it's a nice way to test your horizontal logic as well). The resulting list should look like the storyboard or outline for the story you want to tell. If it doesn't, this can help you understand structurally where you might want to add, remove, or move pieces to create the overall flow and structure for the story that you're interested in.

Stay tuned for the final post in this series, which will be on the value of soliciting a fresh perspective.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

bing bang bongo

This is the third post in a series on helping ensure the story you want to tell comes across clearly in your communication. Prior posts were on the topics of horizontal logic and vertical logic.

Bing, Bang, Bongo is a concept that was introduced by my junior high english teacher when we were learning to write essays. I don't actually remember what the bing, bang, bongo nomenclature referred to, but I do remember the main point - and I believe it can be leveraged when we need to tell a story with data as well.

The idea is that you should first tell your audience what you're going to tell them. Then you tell it to them. Then you tell them what you just told them. If you're the one creating or giving the presentation, this can feel really redundant (because you are familiar with the content and know your stuff well). But to your audience (who is not as close to the content), it feels nice: you've set their expectations, then provided detail, then recapped. The repetition helps cement it in their memory. After three times of telling them, hopefully they are clear on what they are meant to know and do from the story you've just told.

The next post in this series will focus on reverse storyboarding.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

vertical logic

This is the second post in a series on helping ensure that the story you want to tell comes across clearly in your communication. The previous post was on horizontal logic.

In this post, we'll briefly discuss horizontal logic's cousin: vertical logic.

Vertical logic means that all information on a given slide is self-reinforcing. The content reinforces the title and vice versa. The words reinforce the visual and vice versa. There isn't any extraneous or unrelated information. Much of the time, the decision on what to eliminate or push to an appendix is as important (sometimes more so) as the decision on what to retain.

Employing horizontal and vertical logic together will help ensure that the story you want to tell comes across clearly in your communication.

Next in this series, I'll reveal what I mean with the term Bing, Bang, Bongo.

Monday, December 2, 2013

horizontal logic

There are a number of concepts I discuss in my workshops for helping to ensure that the story you're telling in your communication comes across. I'd like to discuss these in a series of brief posts over the next week. First, a couple assumptions to make clear:
  1. My first assumption is that you want to tell a story. My view is that you should always want your audience to know or do something, and story is what can help make that something clear as well as make it resonate with and stick with your audience. For me, great data visualization makes itself a pivotal point in a story
  2. For this conversation, I also assume that the format of the story you're crafting is a presentation deck. While not always the case, I find that this often is the main form of communicating analytical results, findings, and recommendations at many companies. Some of the concepts we'll discuss will be applicable to written reports and other formats as well.
The first concept we'll discuss is horizontal logic.

The idea behind horizontal logic is that you can read just the slide title of each slide throughout your deck and, together, these snippets tell the overarching story you want to communicate. It's important to have action titles (not descriptive titles) for this to work well.

One strategy is to have an exec summary slide up front, with each bullet corresponding to a subsequent slide title in the same order. This is a nice way of setting it up so your audience knows what to expect and then is taken through the detail.

Checking for horizontal logic is one approach to test whether the story you want to tell is coming through clearly in your deck.

Stay tuned for the next post in this series, where we'll discuss vertical logic.