Why presenting business data with a story is better than doing it by the numbers.

Stories are more memorable and form stronger connections with your audience.

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Stories are more memorable and form stronger connections with your audience.

Every one of us has been in a meeting where financial statements were presented. It was valuable information but, assuming you were even able to concentrate on what was being shown, did it make sense to you? Did it move you emotionally? What did those numbers mean to the business? How were you supposed to interpret what you were seeing?

Numbers are truly just numbers until they are given context and meaning.

But if the audience understands the story behind the numbers, then the data comes to life and generates far more dynamic and profitable discussions. It instills more confidence in those who will be using the financial statements and creates emotions around the numbers that can be powerful aids in making decisions.

The psychological power of storytelling.

People have been telling stories since we learned to communicate with each other. The ways stories are told have changed over the years, but the brain’s preference for stories over cold data remains.

We are exposed to literally thousands of pieces of information every day and our brains can only catch some of it. There is only so much room for grasping, understanding, and storing data. That’s why stories can be so powerful in helping us choose to remember what we’re hearing or reading.

Three key components to good data storytelling.

Data
It sounds obvious, but a thorough analysis of your data serves as the foundation for your story. Once you’ve analyzed it, you can better understand the full story it can tell. And a story can help to simplify the data to make it more understandable and actionable.

Narrative
This is the story you’ll use to communicate insights provided by the data, the context surrounding it, and any actions you recommend to inform and inspire your audience.

Visualizations
As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. So, to communicate your story as clearly and memorably as possible use charts, graphs, diagrams, pictures, or videos.

How do you start writing your data story?

Data sets are quantitative, numerical, and logical. Stories are qualitative — the insights are more subjective and emotional. So, how do you marry the latter to the former to get your points across more effectively? How do you take your data and construct an interesting narrative around it?

First, find the story your data is telling you.
Is the story positive? Does it detail a problem? There may be some correlation or link in your dataset that could deliver an insight that can make the data presentation far more meaningful.

Once you’ve established the direction of your story, it’s time to begin.

Who is your audience?
The next step is to determine who you’re presenting to and how data-savvy they are. The less your audience deals with numbers, the more you need to construct a compelling story.

You’ll also need to know if the audience has a question they need answered or an issue they need clarified. Understanding this can provide relevant information to help you create your story.

What do you want the audience to come away with?
What is the “message” of your story? Combine knowing what your audience needs to hear with what you want them to learn will help you create a more relatable story. Also, consider what they may or may not already know to help you figure out how best to narrate the story.

Who are the “characters” in your story?
These could be your customers, suppliers, board members, management, or internal staff. You don’t necessarily have to feature them in the story — although it can often help clarify your points and add interest for the audience — but defining who’s who in your story can make it more entertaining and meaningful.

What is the “conflict”?
Is the data telling you that there has been a drop in sales driven by a specific age or gender group? Did something trigger this decline? Figure out what was happening to cause the numbers to be what they are. You can use this opportunity to incorporate research and statistics that help explain what happened and why.

What is the “bottom line”?
No, not that bottom line. This is where you can describe what the numbers mean and your suggestions for next steps. If it’s a problem, how do you think it can best be resolved? If there is no “conflict” and the news is all good, that’s an even happier ending to the story.

Once you have your story, you need to become an effective data storyteller.

  1. Decide what data matters and what can go in an appendix or be left out.
  2. Keep it simple. Edit yourself until you are telling the story with exactly the words, data, and visuals that enhance the story and move it along.
  3. Rehearse so you’re not stumbling over words or visuals. Saying your story out loud several times can help you find the right places to emphasize and ways to use your voice and your visuals to keep the listener engaged.

Make sure your data is accurate.
This is critical to ensuring that the story makes sense and delivers the message you intend. Having policies in place along with a solid, timely month-end close process will ensure that your financial information can be relied on to be accurate.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being widely used to compile data sets more efficiently, which results in there being more good data to analyze and taking far less time to compile it. That said, there will always be the need for smart analysis of the data to put it into context for those who need to understand and use it.

Accountinuity can help you tell your story.

We have the expertise to help drive your business to financial clarity with our proven process, including catching up and cleaning up your financial statements and establishing your own processes to ensure timely, accurate financials. We work closely with business owners to fully understand what the data means and how to interpret it to help them make more informed decisions, so they can tell better stories.

If you would like to know more — or if you have questions — please contact us at hello@accountinuity.com. Spend an hour with our team of experts. No charge and no obligation.

Accountinuity is the financial and accounting team for growth-minded entrepreneurs seeking to profitably scale their business. We deliver complete flexibility in how businesses use our services and because we can manage every aspect of their accounting operations, they can focus on growing their business.

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