How To Tell A Story with Your Data
A few weeks ago, my business partner Eric and I attended a basketball game in Minnesota. Eric purchased the tickets a few days ahead of time and I really didn’t have any expectations going into the game except to have a great time. Much to my surprise, our seats were incredible! We were sitting immediately behind the announcer’s table in the first row. Now, keep in mind, I’m a Boston sports guy and even when the Celtics were struggling through the 90’s and the early part of this decade, you still couldn’t get a seat behind the announcer’s table or anywhere near the first row without taking out a second mortgage on your house. But, this was Minnesota and the Timberwolves are not necessarily a big market team.
Anyway, as we enjoyed the game we struck up a conversation with the woman sitting immediately in front of us who was a coordinator for the announcers. Sitting on either side of her were two official NBA scorers recording all the action into their computers and generating reports at nearly ten-minute intervals. These reports were printed and handed to the announcers, which ended up in a big pile on their desks in front of them. After a while our friendly coordinator began handing Eric and I her extra copy of these Official Scorer’s Reports. So, like any good Web Analysts would do we took a look and gave the report a critical review (see the image below).
We were astounded by how poorly constructed the reports were. Sure, they contained all the critical information on each player like minutes played, field goals, field goal attempts and total points. Yet, there were no indicators of which metrics were moving, who was playing exceptionally well, or even shooting percentages for individual players. The announcers were undoubtedly skilled at their jobs, because these reports did nothing (or at least very little) to inform them of what to say to their television audiences. Clearly the NBA could benefit from some help from @pimpmyreports.
So, here is where I get to the point about telling a story with your data. Sometime during the middle of the fourth quarter a young aspiring sportscaster came running down to the announcer’s row and handed off a stack of paper that offered some new information. Finally! His 4th-Quarternotes recap was the first written analysis we’d seen that actually placed the statistics and metrics recorded during the game into meaningful context (see image below). The 4th-Quarternotes showed that:
- A win could bring the T’wolves to 3-3 in their last six games.
- Al Jefferson was having a good night – approaching a career milestone for rebounds – and posting his 9th double-double of the season.
- Rookie, Jonny Flynn was about to post his first double-double (which only five rookie players have accomplished), needing only one more assist.
- Ryan Gomes was once again nearing a 20 point game with a 58.6% field goal percentage in the past five games.
This method of reporting used all of the same data that was contained within the Official Scorer’s Report but added historical context, which really brought the data to life. This was interesting stuff! Now T’wolves fans and casual observers alike could understand the significance of Jefferson’s 16 points and 28:27 minutes on the floor – or that Jonny Flynn needed just one more assist to achieve a significant feat. After reading this, (even as a Boston sports fan) I was invested in the game and had something to root for – Go Flynn!
So here’s the moral of the story:
- If you’re going to produce generic reports with no visual cues – do not show them to anyone because they won’t use them – and make sure you hire some damn good analysts that can interpret these reports and give a play-by-play.
- If you do want to distribute your reports widely – take the time to format them in a way that highlights important metrics and calls attention to what’s meaningful so that recipients can interpret them on their own.
- And most importantly – place your data and metrics in context given historical knowledge; significant accomplishments; or some other method to bring the data to life. Give your executives and business stakeholders something to cheer about!
Finally, if you ever have an opportunity to sit behind the announcer’s table, make sure you befriend the coordinator so you can get a copy of the reports for yourself.