I’m a big admirer of Nancy Duarte and her new book DataStory. One thing that Nancy knows is that data communication isn’t just about data visualization — any more than a movie is just about moving images. Audiences are moved by a movie because of so much more: storyline, characters, conflict, context, mood, specificity, meaning, and relatability.
She makes this point in a recent HBR article
The more data we collect, the more mind-boggling these figures become. Though an audience may intellectually understand the measurement, they might fail to relate or connect with it emotionally. For numbers to inspire action, they have to do more than make sense — they have to make meaning.
Connecting to people requires connecting to things they can relate to. When we’re learning a word in a new language, pointing at the picture of a biblioteca can be the easiest way to make the connection. So too in teaching the language of data.
Let’s check out some examples of ways to relate a data value to something your audience already understands.
In a simple example, we might modify as statement like “sales of hydration bottles is expected to reach $10.3 billion by 2023…” by appending a comparison “…that’s more than twice the size of the current fiction book market.” Now, your audience can relate — we’re spending twice as much on water bottles as we are on summer reading.
2. Duarte shares this excellent example from Neil deGrasse Tyson:
A site called TheTrueSize shows us how the United States, India, and China can all fit within the geography of Africa.
Choosing relatable units can make all the difference. Thus, “a banana for scale.” The New York Times expresses the amount of water used to grow produce using a) gallons of water; b) a typical serving size.
In an article by ‘Wait But Why’ From 1 to 1,000,000 they show how to use unit charts to provide an intuitive sense of scale when the raw numbers alone might fail to convey meaning.
Send me your examples and I’ll add them in.