The Science of Data Storytelling


Storytelling’ can feel like a fluffy and vague concept when you put it next to technical skills like coding or data analysis. But there is a significant body of academic study that we can draw on to ensure we’re communicating the numbers in a way that will engage our audience and get decisions made.

Alan Rutter is the founder of consultancy Fire Plus Algebra, and has worked with hundreds of data teams across the private, public and charity sectors. In this tutorial he'll look at the research-backed principles that define how people interpret data visualisations – and how we can practically apply these to presentations, dashboards, reports and other formats.

The session is for anybody who needs to present data-led insights to key stakeholders to drive change and decision-making. You could be in an analyst or data scientist role and be communicating with non-specialist colleagues. Or you could be a tech role and responsible for building products that visualise data in dashboards.

It will cover cognitive biases that may influence your audience, psychological effects that you can use to your advantage, and methods for influencing how humans process visual information. It will also look at where AI tools may be able augment the process, and where human input will always be essential.

You leave the session with a set of practical techniques for creating compelling presentations of data that change minds and influence people.

Session Outline:

Lesson 1: Understanding audiences
Gain understanding of the cognitive biases that may lead your audience down the wrong path when interpreting data. By the end of this lesson you'll understand common cognitive pitfalls and how to avoid them.

Lesson 2: Selecting visuals
Data communication is different from data exploration – so let's take a scientific approach to choosing the right charts and graphs for the job. You will be able to apply priniciples of graphical perception to visualise your data.

Lesson 3: Design techniques
Align your presentations to the ways humans actually process visual information. You will learn how to avoid information overload, and tap into theories such as preattentive processing to drive the message home. You'll also understand the role AI tools can play in data visualisation.

Background Knowledge:

This session is agnostic of any tools or coding frameworks. It is appropriate for anybody using static design tools (PowerPoint, Keynote), business intelligence software (Power BI, Tableau) or code (Python, R) to visualise data. Attendees will learn key principles that they can practically apply any time they are presenting data.


Alan Rutter is the founder of consultancy Fire Plus Algebra, and is a specialist in communicating complex subjects through data visualisation, writing and design. He has worked as a journalist, product owner and trainer for brands and organisations including Guardian Masterclasses, WIRED, Riskified, the Home Office, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

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