At the heart of your data lie myriad great stories—which you choose to tell with data visualization is determined by the message you want to convey and the audience that you’re speaking to.

Being bombarded with narratives of all kinds from all angles, the best way to stick in audiences’ minds is to say something that resonates with their lives. This means it’s crucial how you craft your message and how you determine which visualization best articulates your data.

What’s your goal?

First, figure out the overall goal of your data analysis. Do you want people to change their minds about something or reaffirm their current opinions? Are you looking for a behavioral change or do you simply want to raise awareness about an issue? What questions do you want to answer with your data?

Once you figure out the overarching message, decide on a measurable goal so that you will be able to effectively gauge whether you have successfully attained it.

Who is your audience?

Second, analyze your audience. Who is the message intended for and what do you know about their personalities, decision-making patterns, and lifestyle choices? For example, if you’re presenting data to a board of directors, you might need to draw links to big-picture principles, policies, and perspectives. On the other hand, presenting to executives and trainees could mean you should narrow down data to concrete details.

Use precognitive attributes to create great visualizations that resonate with your audience. This means they will process your graphics without any conscious effort and with no need for additional explanation. For example, it is easier to comprehend rising poverty rates when displayed as a line chart than as a bar chart. The latter might suggest that the width of each bar means something and may confuse the audience, whereas the line chart would be inherently understood.

Above all, if you find yourself stuck, tap into your audience’s experience and knowledge that likely led them to your story in the first place.

What’s the best way to convey your message?

Third, look for relationships in your data and how to best display them. Does a correlation between two variables necessarily denote causality? If so, how will you demonstrate the cause and effect? Do you need a chart (overview), a table (details), or maybe both to convey your message? How do you incorporate a summary of your message into your chart titles to emphasize your overall message?

It’s crucial to adopt a goal-oriented mindset. If you’re not sure what you want to say, you could misrepresent your data by choosing the wrong data visualization type. Because having a good visualization doesn’t necessarily mean you have a good visual story.

Just remember, you can tell several stories with your data, but the ones that stick are the ones that are real, relevant, and relatable. A good visualization is only the cherry on top; however, a good message is the meat of the story. Dig deep to find it, then let it be your North Star.

For more information on why data visualization is critical for your business, download the Data Storytelling Handbook.

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