Businesswoman standing with back drawing business ideas on wall

Turning Numbers Into Narratives

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

We live in a data-driven world, looking for numbers to answer crucial questions and guide us in nearly every decision we make. But there is a major disconnect between decision makers and those professionals who present ideas—and numbers—to them.

Executives are frustrated by endless charts and tables being “fire-hosed” at them. Getting blasted with data (that doesn’t tell a story) doesn’t help leaders make easy, clear decisions. Indeed, many of us often squander our chance to provide our bosses with strategic, actionable insights.

No doubt, as data gatherers, we are awash in findings. Unfortunately, many choose to show everything, and the important points become muted. What’s worse, our smart ideas and recommendations also are muted by all the number noise. This can harm not only our short-term project goals, but perhaps our long-term career advancement.


Our ability (and love) for vast data collection is not slowing down anytime soon. Virtually all of our modern institutions, including manufacturers, governments, and financial services, rely on the meaningful insights derived from key metrics. Consequently, it has never been more critical to ensure that those closest to raw data have the structure and tools to bring the data’s vital messages to decision makers.

Enter Visual Storytelling

Visual storytelling is an ability to use story to connect the dots between data points. This may be the single greatest way to amplify the impact of our facts and figures—and effectively get our ideas heard and acted on. In fact, I have witnessed over and over that when visual storytelling is done right, it is nothing short of a career game-changer.

So how do you tell a story with data that lets an audience understand your message at a glance? Here are a few guidelines:

  • Determine your story. Always prepare presentations with a goal in mind. Ask yourself: “What exactly am I trying to achieve, and why?” and “What do I really want people to know and do with the key findings?”
  • Highlight critical data, not all the data. You can do this by writing headlines that report the news and use callouts when necessary. Think “outside the chart” and use photography, icons, oversized text, and more. In other words, cut through the noise and elevate the key takeaways from the data.

Ready to Get Started?For a deeper dive into this powerful, easy-to-apply process, join me for my session at the ATD 2018 International Conference & EXPO: Turn Numbers into Narratives Through Data Visualization. Whether you’re a data expert or an occasional data presenter, you will learn how to think “outside the spreadsheet” and get to the essence of your data.

About the Author

Janine Kurnoff is founder and chief innovation officer at The Presentation Company. She helps some of the world's top brands such as Facebook, Salesforce, MetLife, and Hewlett Packard communicate strategically through data-driven storytelling. Janine has devoted her life to teaching storytelling and data visualization because she believes that these skills are the single greatest way to amplify the meaning and impact of your facts and figures. Storytelling, done right, is nothing short of a career game-changer. Janine and her business partner (and sister!) Lee Lazarus, founded The Presentation Company nearly two decades ago to let teams get practical, hands-on training using storytelling techniques and tools. From sales to engineering, Janine's methodology helps people organize, visualize, and present their ideas in a way that is captivating, easy-to-process, and results-driven. Prior to founding The Presentation Company, Janine worked for Yahoo! Inc. in sales training and, later, as an on-camera webcast host interviewing some of Silicon Valley's top CEOs, market strategists and Hollywood celebrities. In her spare time, she enjoys The Bar Method, cooking, traveling and spending time with her husband and three children in Portland, Oregon.

Sign In to Post a Comment
Great article, love this topic, love your passion of storytelling, could not agree more!
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.
fantastic! I love the topic, congrats for the article.
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.