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Interview: Nancy Duarte, Author and CEO of Duarte, Inc.

I recently caught up with Nancy Duarte, CEO of Duarte, Inc. and author of DataStory: Explain Data and Inspire Action Through Story to discuss her views on a topic that’s critical to successful data science projects – data storytelling. Nancy has contributed her expertise to MIT and Forbes and is a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review and Linkedin’s Influencer Program and can be heard on Lewis Howes, Art of Charm and Entrepreneur on Fire. She has an engaged following of 235,000+.

insideBIGDATA: How do you define “story” in relation to communicating data?

Nancy Duarte: I confess, a few people have attacked me for saying things like “data needs a storyteller.” One guy even screamed at one of my workshop facilitators “Data is absolute! Data is absolute!” The word “story” throws people for a loop because they assume it means fiction, wives-tales and fantasy. But science has proven that the brain lights up when listening to a story. So, we pull on story frameworks and structural elements that give data-geeks a method for explaining data in a way that allows others to understand the insights.

insideBIGDATA: How do you transform numbers into inspirational narratives to drive action and get results?

Nancy Duarte: For years I used to just plop up a chart when presenting data as if it was necessary but not exciting. In fact, I’ve transcribed every public-facing presentation Steve Jobs ever delivered and even when analyzing them I would skip over the data bits looking for something more interesting. There are ways to communicate data so it sticks by connecting it to other relatable things. For example, with the iPod launch, Jobs didn’t share how small the unit was or share how many gigs it held. Instead he said it held “a thousand songs” (storage size) “in your pocket” (physical size). Also, instead of presenting a chart all at once, consider building it over time to create a heightened sense of surprise and suspense.

insideBIGDATA: How do executives need data communicated to them?

Nancy Duarte: Executives are busy. They need information that is clear and skimmable. They are looking for ways to save time each day and if you’re the one who feeds them valuable information, thoughtfully constructed and brief, they will soon adore working with you. Most executives consume information in the form of a handful of slidedoc pages. These visual pages with dense magazine-like layouts are a quick way for them to see what you’re saying. Your recommendation should take up the first three to five pages succinctly and be visually skimmable. And, you can always have all your crazy dense research in there too, but just label it as an appendix. If they are curious to look at how you came to your conclusion, then it is there for the browsing. 

insideBIGDATA: What is a “Data Point of View,” why do you need it and how do you craft one?

Nancy Duarte: The greatest value of data is to help us find a problem or opportunity. As you cruise through data, you’re picking up signals the data is telling you and you start to form a perspective about what people should do to solve the problem or exploit the opportunity. Your DataPOV is your perspective about an action you recommend happen from your insights. Once you have that, you need to explain what is at stake. Here’s an example of a point of view “We need to divest our services division immediately…” and then, the second part of the DataPOV needs communicate what’s at stake “…or we’ll burn through too much cash.”

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Comments

  1. Michael Draznin says:

    Kudos on a great (and unexpected) interview here with Nancy Duarte, @DanielGutierrez. Her vast experience is perfectly timed for all that’s happening with big data, and making big data more comprehensible and therefore useful. Well done

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