“If you learn a language without learning the grammar, it’s nearly impossible to write well,” Pop observes. “It’s no different for working with data. If you haven’t learned the basics of creating graphs and telling stories with data, it’s nearly impossible to communicate insights effectively and drive change.”
Pop is the founder of Vizlogue, a data visualization and storytelling lab offering workshops and consulting services. Before starting the company, Pop spent almost a decade working in marketing science and analytics at top media
agencies across the consumer goods, hospitality, and automobile industries.
Despite using data to create charts and presentations throughout this time, Pop’s formal training in statistics hadn’t exposed her to the fundamentals of data visualization and storytelling. That changed one afternoon, seven years ago, as she watched a designer present on the importance of flow when constructing presentation slides.
“That was really a revelation for me,” Pop says. “That made me realize that we’d been doing all this work without really knowing how to create data visualizations effectively. We were creating graphs intuitively without having the knowledge, so there was a tremendous knowledge gap there.”
Pop was convinced and immediately started filling that gap through a deep study of data visualization and storytelling. She spent countless hours reading, attending workshops, and practicing with different tools.
Data storytelling is about using creativity and empathy, as well as contextual understanding, to frame your insight. The key learning is that, when data is presented in an effective way, it makes you want to pay attention.Rebecca Pop, Strategic Data Storytelling instructor
It makes you want to pay attention
Pop grounds “Strategic Data Storytelling” in a deep understanding of adult learning strategies to ensure she fully communicates the critical insights from her experience. To ingrain these lessons, students spend ample time in class experimenting with the latest data visualization tools.
“I like to make learning a fun experience,” she says. “I’m not the type of instructor who shows up and lectures you about how to do things. I think we learn better and easier when we enjoy the process of learning, so I like to include things like polls and discussions. Sometimes a competition is also a great way to engage everyone and pull the class in.”
Starting with the basics, she builds on the key elements of telling stories with data and the power of graphical visualizations. “For most students, it’s a matter of knowing what types of charts are out there, how to use them, and
why certain charts are able to convey messages more effectively than others,” she says.
Students also learn how to frame narratives and visualizations around shifting business goals and target specific
audiences. Importantly, these are skills that extend beyond simply creating presentations and dashboards. Pop stresses that data storytelling and visualization are skills that are valuable in various scenarios.
“Sometimes it’s a matter of distilling an idea to a colleague in a meeting,” Pop says. “In that case, it might be about taking the ten data points you have and quickly positioning your message in the most compelling way given what you know about your colleague. That’s also data storytelling right there, although at a smaller scale.”
“In the end,” Pop adds, “data storytelling is about using creativity and empathy, as well as contextual understanding, to frame your insight. The key learning is that, when data is presented in an effective way, it makes you want to pay attention. It draws you in and can make the insights irresistible.”