Best practices of data storytelling

Every CFO (chief financial officer) has stories to narrate and they could be master fablers.

With the primary aim of charting the next growth story for the business, CFOs can use data to share information on key financial measures, improving the performance of the business to conversing with colleagues about trends in the economy. Data, figures and statistics are their main instruments of change. It is, however, imperative that when CFOs weave narratives into data, C-suite stakeholders can visualise their stories and have key takeaways.

With collaboration with other departments being identified as a key priority by 70 per cent of global CFOs, it is now more critical than ever for CFOs to communicate effectively.

A recent report indicates almost one of out of two CFOs in India (43 per cent) plan to increase their IT spending towards building their company’s business intelligence and data analysis capabilities. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to become a data-driven CFO. So what is the secret to successful storytelling?

  • Don’t be afraid to tell data stories: The job of the CFO is to set strategy and shepherd resources. By finding the real stories in your data, you can get people to align behind your strategy and focus on your key messages. It’s important not to overwhelm non-financial colleagues with data and facts without context. Data stories bring facts to life. They help to make sense out of a disparate collection of facts. They make it easier to remember key points and paint a vivid picture of what the future can look like. 
  • Think of your analysis as a story — use a story structure: When crafting a data-rich story, the first objective is to find the story — the characters, the hurdles and what is the call to action for your audience. Answering these questions starts with analysing the data and uncovering your findings. Use data visualisation platforms such as Tableau to accelerate your analysis time and examine data closely and in more relevant ways. Next, create the storyboard representing the structure and form of your story. The storyboard will elaborate on the best analogies/metaphors, to set up a challenge or opportunity, and to see the flow and transitions needed,  showcasing the key visuals that you need executives to recall.
  • Be authentic — your story will flow: To best capture audience attention, consider how you can take a data fact and make it personal. Use a metaphor or anecdote to make the data more memorable. Take your story and develop it with data. Present core facts and data that prove your point. You can then supplement hard data with qualitative data.

  • Be visual — think of yourself as a film editor: Symbols, graphs and pictures are effective communication devices. A well-chosen visual tells the story in a single glance. On the other hand, tables of data or numbers can be confusing for people who do not work with spreadsheets on a daily basis. The key is to create well-formed visual analysis, charts and graphs.
  • Make it easy for your audience and you: Simple and direct storytelling makes communication easier. Your audience will recall the key message and can act on it. Multiple stories within one overall presentation are fine but realise that the human brain typically cannot hold more than three to five major facts. Stick to two or three key issues and focus on how they relate to your audience. The simplest way for a CFO to deliver analytical insights to the business and carve the next growth engine is a matter of “defining, articulating, and deploying” the data through a story.
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