E11: Brent Dykes - Author of seminal book on Data Storytelling

The Story Rules Podcast

Nov 12 2021 • 1 hr 27 mins


“I'm in the boardroom, he's in the middle; (There are) Managers around, listening to my presentation; I get to the slide with this insight or observation that I had found, and he tilts his head, looks at it, and then blurts out “Bullshit!”

At that moment I was like, 'Oh crap, I have just stepped in it. I am not going to be one of the MBA students hired now. I am in trouble here,' and I was a little bit flustered.

I wasn't expecting that reaction; I was expecting 'Oh, that's interesting, Brent! Tell us more.' or maybe, 'We should look into that.' But nope, it was basically flatly denied, and luckily, I had a mentor who jumped in and gave me some cover fire.

I escaped the room that day relatively unscathed, maybe my ego (got) bruised a little…but what did die that day was that observation; that potential insight went nowhere. Nobody picked it up and said “Hey, let's look at this trend!” or anything.

Basically, when the Senior VP says 'bullshit!' about something, I don't think there's another Manager who would pick it up. So, that taught me a very good lesson that I have to find a better way to approach communicating data.”


That is Brent Dykes, author of “Effective Data Storytelling: How to Drive Change with Data, Narrative and Visuals” a seminal book on the topic.


In 2016, Brent (who started his career in Marketing Analytics) wrote an article on Data Storytelling in Forbes magazine. That article went viral with 3-400K views. In subsequent conferences and talks, Brent was asked for book recommendations. He realised that there wasn’t anything which covered the stuff that he was talking about.. and decided to write one himself.


I’m so glad he did, because I learnt a lot from his book. In a newsletter post a few months back, I’d written an effusive review of the book - no wonder, I was excited to have Brent in my podcast.


In this conversation, Brent shares some of his best insights from the book:

- Why do you need to tell a data story: to ensure that your hard-won insights are not ignored

- When do you need to tell a data story: The simple but effective concept of the Story Zone

- How do you tell a data story: the different types of narratives and the one that Brent prefers

- The idea of a Data Trailer as a way of enticing the audience to listen to the entire Data Story

In addition, Brent also narrates some fabulous contrasting examples - of people who struggled to make an impact because of poor storytelling, as well as of folks who changed the world through the power of story.

Links to resources:
Brent's LinkedIn profile
Brent's Twitter account
Website for Brent's book
Brent's book on Amazon: Effective Data Storytelling: How to Drive Change with Data, Narrative and Visuals
My blog post on Brent's book with the Story Zone visual.

This podcast was hosted by me, Ravishankar Iyer. Audio editing by Kartik Rajan. Transcript editing by Amisha Jha and all-round support by Sanket Aalegaonkar.