Tell your story! Easy to say, hard to do. Here are the tips that help.

Storytelling is vital. Whether for making data accessible to an audience or for any other reason.

We all know this, we’re told it all the time, mostly by Seth Godin! We’re surrounded by stories and we all realize that to create connection, to persuade, to make change, we have to tell our own. And to get anywhere, we better get good at it. So why is it still so damn hard to do it well? How come I forget how to do it every single time I come to write?

Fundamentally, it’s easier to start with the internal than the external.
‘What do I want to say?’, ‘what product do I want to tell people about?’, ‘what’s my opinion on this?’
Working at a charity, we fall into this internal thinking trap all the time. We have so many messages we want people to hear, so many important pieces of news to impart, so many actions to invite people to take. And for communicating insight we get caught up asking ‘what do my findings say?’, ‘what my recommendation?’, ‘how can I make this graph just a little bit prettier?’

But to start with the external means to think of the reader first. Who are they? What might they be interested in? Why should they care about what I’ve got to say?

Every story needs to start from the outside and go in. Every story is a fruit that the reader peels back the layers of to get to the juicy, tasty bit in the middle. If you’re like me and need a helping hand offering up the best fruit then look no further than Bobette Buster’s handy how to:

It’s all gold but here’s the best bits that are easily actioned every day:

  1. Tell your story as if to a friend, no matter who you’re talking to.
  2. Choose a ‘gleaming detail’, the one ordinary moment, object or metaphor that embodies the heart of what you’re telling a story about. Hook onto the senses: what does that detail look, sound, smell, taste or feel like?
  3. Be vulnerable. Dare to share the doubt, the anger, the surprise the joy.
  4. Bring yourself. It doesn’t have to be about you to include you or your opinion.
  5. Let go. Less is more.

Critical thinking – question your analyst!

If you’re the client for analysis, insight or research, keep these questions in mind when you get results presented back to you.

Analysts and researchers try to tease out useful information from data, whatever their methods. But their interpretation is in the end just one interpretation of what they have looked at.

Being critical doesn’t mean you’re saying ‘this is garbage, you’re wrong about everything!’ Being critical means being curious and having a healthy skepticism when information is presented to you as fact. In science, you learn to have your work ruthlessly pulled apart in order to have your ideas tested so you can improve what you’re doing. In non-profits people are often unsure of their data knowledge and that makes them too timid and too damn nice! Here are some questions to get your critical juices flowing. You don’t have to understand the data, you understand your work and you’re an intelligent adult who can form valid opinions based on information your are shown.

Being curious about alternative stories
Is there another explanation for that?

Debating findings
That’s the opposite of my hunch! That’s really not what I would expect, is it right?

Limits and assumptions of the analysis
How robust is this analysis?
How reliable and consistent was the data?
How did you get to your findings?

Insisting on clarity
What exactly does this show?
What does this mean for us? What can we do with this?
I didn’t get what you said – can you explain that again in English? (see There are no stupid questions)