Book Review: Storytelling with Data

‘Often this discomfort seems to be driven by the belief that the audience knows better than the presenter and therefore should choose whether and how to act on the information presented. This assumption is false. If you are analysing and communicating the data, you are the subject matter expert… Even if you highlight or recommend the wrong thing, it prompts the right sort of conversation focused on action.’

The above was probably the best line I’ve ever seen regarding anything related to data. As analysts, we’re often taught to ask the coach what do they want and how do they want x presented, how do they want y measured. I think stakeholder engagement in anything is important, but it’s also important to recognise, you are the expert in particular instances and in your general area, be that as an analyst or otherwise.


Author: Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic
Published: 2015, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New Jersey
ISBN: 97811190002253

What is it about?

It is a Guide on how to use data visualisation, understanding data, context and how to deliver your message with those in mind.

The book works through different scenarios and situations and how to apply the appropriate visualisations for each situation and why. Probably the most interesting one on this is how to apply context within graphs and how to do it.

Who is it for?

The book is aimed at business professionals. From a sports point of view, this is a good book for analysts looking to improve how they use and deliver data. It is less a book for coaches although it could be applicable to coaches at a professional level who would be delivering reports to board level.

What did I take from it?

I took lots from it. It was a book that matched a skill I wanted to attain. The best way to sample this is comparing an old chart from my website and displaying it how I would now since reading the book.

Before: From New Zealand’s Lineout 2018 Article
After: If I was to do that article again

As you can see, the original graph had numerous colours and emphasises. There is vertical gridlines not particularly serving a purpose, the horizontal ones are a strong and thick dark grey, the text is all quite large and black giving it prominence and the colours are all very loud in the chart.

The one below de-emphasises the gridlines by removing the vertical gridlines and increasing the gaps between the horizontal ones as well as making them thinner and a more neutral grey.

The text is mostly coloured grey to allow it to be seen but not emphasised. The message I primarily wanted to get across was to expect 7 mans in the opposition half and 6 mans inside the opposition 22m. Columns, text and the text with the legend is consistent and matches per colour to make information quicker to match up.

Although I’ve lost a bit of the data from the way it is presented, my point is made much quicker and is easier for the audience to take in the point that was made. The audience now sees the point as opposed to finds the point.

Should I buy it?

If you have identified data visualisation as a weakness of yours, this book is a perfect starting point and will be an easy read for you. If you don’t want to get better at data visualisation or story telling with data then don’t buy this book. If you are somewhat advanced at data visualisation, then perhaps this book might be a bit basic for you given what I’ve read on other reviews of this book.

5/5 if you want to get better at displaying data.


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