Join Doug Rose for an in-depth discussion in this video Spin a yarn, part of Learning Data Science: Tell Stories With Data.
- Imagine that you're trying to present your story in front of your audience. Remember that there are so many ways in which your audience is distracted. It might be a struggle to keep them engaged. There might be a clock over your head, you could also be in a room with glass walls next to a busy hallway. Trying to tell a story in a modern office is not an easy task. That's why you want to work extra hard to focus on engaging with people when you're in the room.
When you start your storytelling session, you want to immediately start spinning a yarn. This is a 19th century term that sailors used when telling a good story. Part of being a good sailor is knowing how to weave together rope. Each thread needs to twist and weave together to make a strong story. There are five threads that your team can focus on when trying to spin a good yarn. The first is to stimulate your audience's curiosity. Second, try to relate to your audience with analogies, or shared experiences.
The third is to try to never use words like "I" or "me." Instead use "you" or "your." You want to focus on the audience. The forth is to try to ask interesting questions. Finally, don't be too serious. If you're funny or approachable, then the audience will have an easier time accepting your ideas. So let's start with stimulating your audience's curiosity. Imagine you're going into a typical meeting. The Power Point presentation says, "Forth Quarter Sales Projections." So you see there's a pretty strong upward trend at the end of the third quarter.
Now imagine the same meeting. A slide is up but it only has the name of the story teller. The meeting starts and the story teller introduces their self. She starts by saying that the last few months sales have been going up, but the data science team cannot figure out why. This is the type of story that will spark you audience's curiosity. Why didn't the data science team know? The audience will want to see how you weave together the open question. If you keep your audience curious, then they'll be patient as you tell your story.
They'll want to see how it unfolds. Another thread you could try, is to build on a relatable experience. When you're telling a story, the audience needs to relate to you as a person. They won't think of you as team or as a representative, they want to know what you, as a person, have to say. Then they're going to connect this with what the audience already believes. Don't start by talking about the numbers. Instead, talk about similar experiences. Maybe start by saying something like, "when I first looked at this data, "it reminded me of how people wait in really long lines." Then go on to describe the problem of long lines and how you might lose customers.
Don't over do it when you relate your experience to your audience. There's certainly a point where you might be oversharing. You might be doing this most, if your storytelling is using terms such as "I" and "me." The key thing to remember is that you're sharing your experience to help your audience find meaning. It's not an opportunity just to talk about yourself. You're using yourself as an example for how they might approach the data. You might also want to share some of your data science teams questions. You've already seen how to ask interesting questions.
You can use the same question to try and stimulate your audience's curiosity. If your team found them interesting, then there's a pretty good chance that your audience might do so as well. You can also weave it together with the experience of looking for the answer. A good question will make your audience crave the answer. Remember to not be too serious. The audience is naturally drawn to your story when they think you're having a good time. Your passion stimulates their curiosity. They might wonder why it looks like you're having so much fun.
You don't want to be goofy, that will chip away at your credibility. Instead try to weave together a light hearted experience. You might even want to make fun of the way that your team comes up with questions. The audience is looking to you to help them connect what you're saying to some overall meaning in their own experiences. Showing that it's a fun journey, is more likely to get them on board. These five threads will help you spin a yarn into a strong story. Each of these threads will add to the overall strength of your storytelling session.
You might not be able to use them all, but try to remember how they weave together to keep the audience engaged in searching for meaning.
- Structuring a data science story
- Defining plot, conflict, and details
- Going beyond reporting
- Knowing your audience
- Working with data
- Introducing visuals
- Eliminating distractions
- Incorporating metaphors
- Motivating the audience
- Avoiding pitfalls