Data Visualization—3 Keys to Success

If you’re a data analyst, you play a very important role in your organization. You know how to take raw information and translate it into meaningful intelligence. You have a knack for sifting through the noise for the signal and using what you find to drive toward effective solutions.

But when it comes to sharing those findings, things can get a little trickier. How do you communicate what you’ve discovered in a way your audience will understand?

Data visualizations can be an incredibly effective communication tool no matter your audience. But to really use it most effectively, you’ll want to follow these three keys to success.

Key #1: Learn How to Tell a Good Story

It has been said that human beings are the storytelling animal. Evidence suggests that long before writing systems emerged, humans used stories to share and remember critical pieces of information.

It’s no wonder, then, that the first key to successful data visualization is to put it in the service of a larger narrative—one with a beginning, middle, and end; with clearly defined stakes for success; and with a clear lesson or takeaway for your audience.

When you learn how to tell a good story, you help your audience move beyond the “what” of your data and begin to understand the “why.” You provide the context that gives data meaning. And you help your audience understand what to do next; why the results of your data naturally lead to certain conclusions.

Key #2: Remember Who You’re Talking To

If data visualizations are meant to serve the story you’re telling, it’s also important to remember who you’re telling it to. An audience of c-suite executives is very different from internal associates or your company’s sales team.

Here are a few questions to consider as you think about tailoring your data visualizations to your audience:

  1. What context do they already have?
    The same data will need very different context depending on the prior knowledge your audience brings to the table. For example, leaders within your department may understand why a project was launched; leaders on the outside, however, may need a little more background.
  2. What else is competing for their attention?
    While you and your colleagues may be devoted to a particular project, your CEO probably has a bit more on their plate. When you’re creating an effective data visualization, consider your audience’s bandwidth and how it will affect their receptivity to your ideas.
  3. What do I want them to do?
    Does your audience need to take any action? Are you informing them about a new trend, asking them to help solve a problem, or suggesting they reinvent an old process? The answers to these questions will depend on your audience, but they will also impact how you structure your data visualization.

When you know the people you’re talking to, you can craft a far better message.

Key #3: Clarity Is King

If you’re a data geek (like us), you love running the numbers. It’s fascinating to see how small variables can result in new insights, and how data can be sliced to yield new discoveries. There’s nothing wrong with any of that—in fact, that enthusiasm is probably why you got hired in the first place.

But when it comes time to present the data, visualizations are most effective when they are simple and clear. Your goal is to communicate effectively, and the more clarity you can bring to the information you share the better your audience can grasp it.

Give Voice to Your Data

As a data analyst, you know that data is always telling a story. But people who don’t have your skills can’t always see what their data is telling them.

By knowing your audience, creating clear messaging, and putting it into the context of sound storytelling principles, you can help give voice to the data you have to make a big impact on your organization.

Do you have a drive to understand data? We want to hear from you.

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