Image was generated with Midjourney

The Five Most Common Mistakes in Data Storytelling

Since 2012, when interest in Data Storytelling started skyrocketing, the number of errors associated with it has grown even faster. But hey, I actually think it’s a good thing! It means people are getting creative with their business visuals, trying to convey data insights in the most effective way. Data storytelling is no longer reserved for a select few professionals; it’s a skill that anyone can master. We’ve come a long way, just like how photography went from being an exclusive club to a mass phenomenon.

In this article, I’ll spill the beans on the most common data storytelling mistakes made by business professionals and help you steer clear of them. Let’s dive right in, shall we?

🚩 Mistake 1: Drill Down Instead of a Story

Now, don’t get me wrong, drill-down is a pretty nifty analytics technique. It helps us pinpoint the problem’s hiding spot and uncover its roots. It’s like hunting down a mystery, starting with the big picture and zooming in on individual business departments, brands, or even products. Totally normal, right?

But here’s where it gets tricky. Instead of explaining what we found during our data exploration journey, we end up dragging our audience through the entire process. That’s a big no-no. Remember, a data story needs to have all the elements of a captivating tale: a hero, an initiating event, a conflict, and a climax. So, let’s save the boredom and drill-down presentation structure for something less important, like long meetings.

🚩 Mistake 2: Analyst’s Story Instead of a Data Story

We all have a natural urge to spin stories. It’s in our DNA. And let’s be honest, data analysis can be quite the adventure. We navigate through raw data, play with hypotheses, stumble upon dead ends, and sometimes discover things we never even imagined. Exciting stuff, right? So, naturally, we want to share our experiences.

But hold your horses! There’s a fine line between telling your own analyst story and telling a compelling data story about your customers, employees, and brands. Analyst stories are perfect for those casual coffee machine chats, where you can impress your colleagues with your analytical prowess. However, when it comes to decision-making meetings and boardrooms, it’s time to put on your storytelling cape and be the guide, not the hero.

🚩 Mistake 3: Good Story Told Against a Bad Chart

Ah, the classic case of a good story gone wrong, tangled up with a lousy chart. It’s like a mismatched outfit that leaves everyone scratching their heads. Even if your story is data-based and narrated with finesse, your audience should be able to connect the dots between your words and what they see on the chart. Sadly, that’s not always the case.

To save ourselves from this visual disaster, we need to make sure that the key data insights and the main message of the story are crystal clear in the chart itself. It’s all about using those decluttering techniques, Gestalt principles, preattentive attributes, and other visualization tricks to avoid ending up with a half-baked data storytelling product. Otherwise, we risk ending up with a Frankenstein-like creation that barely resembles its intended purpose. Let’s avoid that, shall we?

🚩 Mistake 4: Good Chart with No Story in It

Picture this: a stunning chart that could win a beauty contest, but it’s missing something crucial—a captivating story. It’s like serving a sumptuous meal without any flavor!

Sadly, this mistake happens more often than a Monday morning coffee spill. Business analysts proudly showcase their beautifully crafted charts, but forget to infuse them with a compelling narrative. They reduce data storytelling to mere data visualization. Formatting data nicely and creating eye-catching charts is all well and good, but let’s not confuse that with being a data storyteller. Data storytelling goes beyond fancy visuals; it’s about connecting the dots, revealing insights, and telling a tale that captivates your audience. So don’t get too caught up in the aesthetics; make sure your chart has a juicy story to tell!

🚩 Mistake 5: Story Created Before Data Analysis

Last but not least, the classic blunder of putting the cart before the horse. If you craft a story before diving into data analysis, you’re treading dangerous waters. It’s like desperately searching for evidence to support your preconceived notions, falling into the confirmation bias trap.

A true data story should be the result of thorough data analysis, not the other way around. Let the data guide you on this adventure, and you’ll uncover insights you never knew existed. It’s time to break free from the shackles of preconceived stories and embrace the awe-inspiring world of data-driven narratives!


Remember, data storytelling is a skill that requires time and practice to master. So don’t fret if you’ve made these mistakes before. We’ve all been there! With practice, dedication, and humbleness, you’ll soon be a data storytelling maestro. So go forth, my fellow data enthusiasts, and spin tales that captivate hearts and minds!

Spread the word. Share this post!