Presented By O'Reilly and Cloudera
Make Data Work
Feb 17–20, 2015 • San Jose, CA

Don't Let Data Get in the Way of a Good Story

Mark Madsen (Teradata)
9:10am–9:30am Wednesday, 02/18/2015
Data-Driven Business Day
Location: LL20 A.
Average rating: ***..
(3.57, 7 ratings)
Slides:   1-PDF 

Storytelling is not about raising someone’s IQ, it’s about raising their blood pressure. Stories engage emotions rather than intellect, making “storytelling with data” a poor metaphor for data visualization when our goal is to communicate clearly.

People are often confused or misled by “story”, thinking they need a classical story structure with protagonists, action and resolution when the job may be simpler, or more complicated. Some of the storytelling tools and suggestions vendors promote would get you kicked out of your boss’s office you used them without taking into account their goals and context.
Narrative is what we are really talking about, not story. We need to focus our attention on narrative techniques rather than “story” and its forced linear structure. This means understanding why we want to communicate: is it to explain, to build shared understanding, to convince others that our interpretation is the right one?

We use visualization as a tool for many different purposes, communication being one. The idea of narratives with data is a good one, but not all narrative is story. The purpose of this talk is to provide clarity around the goals of communicating with data and to provide a goal-oriented framework that escapes the bad metaphorical frame imposed by “storytelling”.

Photo of Mark Madsen

Mark Madsen


Mark Madsen is president of Third Nature, a technology research and consulting firm focused on business use of data and analytics. Mark is an award-winning author, architect and CTO whose work has been featured in numerous industry publications. For more information or to contact Mark, follow @markmadsen on Twitter or visit