See the Idea in the Story: Infographic Storytelling

The most effective stories communicate ideas and information with little effort. (At least it should be effortless for the listener.) But as information designer Jonathan Corum pointed out in a recent talk at the Tapestry Conference in Nashville, there is a lot of effort and preparation required of the storyteller. The best stories begin with questions and the urge to understand. His presentation focused on infographic storytelling design, but these rules apply equally well to storytelling in any medium. Highlights from Corum’s talk:

Who is my audience?

Corum urges us to look beyond labels like “subscriber vs. visitor” or “mobile vs. tablet reader” and focus on the person. He does this with a personal example.

My grandmother, an artist married to a chemist, used to say that when they went to museums, she looked at the art and he read the labels.

And that sums up most museum-going experiences: the art is over here, and the label is somewhere over there.

So this is what I try not to do — I try to combine the art with the text, and not keep them separate.

Show Ideas + Evidence

Corum shares another “story about a story,” explaining how he dug deeper into a mass of black and white text and graphs in order to better understand a complex paper on fin whale lunge-feeding behavior.

It’s a chart showing the depth of the dive, with the whale breathing on the surface, diving to about 250 meters, then making these four or five bumps, then returning to the surface. Finally this is something tangible.

But, being scientists, they cut out the whole middle of the chart, because they were only interested in what was going on at the surface and the bottom of the dive.

So the first thing I did was to contact the researcher and get the missing data.

And when you chart it, it looks like this.

Make Connections

Corum reminds us to avoid the kitchen sink approach, in which all the data is thrown at the listener or reader. Look for patterns and edit. Focus on one concept and ruthlessly remove the irrelevant.

I would suggest that if you are only going to do one thing, try to make connections. Try to find some piece of information, understand it, craft it and send it out in the world, with the hopes that your audience will understand it.

Whether you’re sharing a story about your business, non-profit, scientific research, or anything else, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the data. How do you take a step back and apply these three rules to convey your ideas more effectively?


Corum’s complete slides, with paraphrased notes, are here.

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One comment on “See the Idea in the Story: Infographic Storytelling
  1. Jeff Brunson says:

    Love the 3 rules! Reminds me of what I learned in some corporate training on how to speak to the media … or any audience: 1) Consider your audience 2) Develop your one main message point 3) Provide vivid support. It is the ‘vivid’ part that Story promises if we but pay attention. Thanks, Jeff

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