On any given day, we are bombarded by information – and, according to Cisco, 90% of it on the internet is in the form of pictures. We tell our personal stories with selfies posted to Facebook. We shop online, swiping and clicking through photographs. We digest news by tapping on an image that most intrigues us and scanning video clips from a variety of traditional and nontraditional news sources.

data storytelling Dan RoamWhile some of us may blame millennials for this new behavior, it’s actually a nod to how our brains consume information. Generation after generation, we doodle on the back of napkins to get a point across, show a beloved possession to tell the world how much someone loves us, and draw scenery that our eyes have captured and our brains recorded. It just happens that digital technology is making it easier for us to engage each other this way.

For every conversation we hold, whether digital or face-to-face, pictures are the expectation – not just for the data presented, but for the story itself. Every data set can be visually interpreted in many ways – each one saying something different. We’ve all seen them: Some images are beautiful, but not compelling. Others tell a solid, complete narrative, but somehow the details get lost in a sea of ugly and messy graphics.

Tell a story your audience will love in just 6 pictures

Designing a creative visual based on a collection of quantitative and qualitative data is not an easy task. We are all trying to tell our story quickly, but the most important part of storytelling is making sure that your audience understands your ideas and that you are able to influence decision making and drive action.

In his white paper “Visual Storytelling in the Digital Age,” international, five-time bestseller author Dan Roam found that a series of six pictures covers every type of explanation needed in a presentation, regardless of the content. “This little visual toolkit served me well and gave me the confidence to go to the whiteboard and – regardless of the particular industry or market being discussed – know that I could draw a picture that would clarify the essentials of the underlying concept,” he shared.

Here are the six pictures that can help captivate your audience’s eyes and brains:

  1. data storytellingPortrait: Open every data story with a visual summary, stating the people and things you are discussing.
  1. Chart: Provide a quantitative measure of how many people or things are involved. Changes in number and trends are particularly revealing.
  1. Map: Illustrate the relative position of the people or things involved in your story, according to geographical or conceptual coordinates.
  1. Timeline: Show the sequence in which people or things interact with each other or the steps required to bring them into alignment.
  1. Flowchart: Superimpose cause-and-effect influences on any, or all, of your previous pictures. This approach shows the potential change or opportunities uncovered by your data, as well as a plan for achieving it.
  1. Multi-variable plot: Conclude your story by detailing why it should matter to your audience. By showing how all five visualization are linked to each other and the sum of their impact, you can summarize key learnings, takeaways, or action items triggered by these insights.

While every story may not require all of these visualizations in this exact order, Roam’s lesson is clear: Simple pictures, a little practice, and comprehensive tools can turn data into information, convert information into insight, and move insight into action.

Learn the importance of visual storytelling for business and how to do it effectively. Read Dan Roam’s white paper Visual Storytelling in the Digital Age.”

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