Balancing the Rational and Emotional in Data Storytelling

Balance is the key to success

As a firm, our heritage is in using data to help tell the stories of healthcare businesses across the world. No matter if their target audience is a healthcare professional (HCP), journalist or patient, we follow the data to turn insight into strategy and strategy into action and storytelling.

A pure data story often doesn’t connect with the majority of our audiences. Facts alone can be cold. To tell an effective story, you need to connect on an emotional level and combine that with the rational.

And sometimes it’s easy to fall into the trap of overloading on the rational to communicate your key points.

This isn’t as challenging as it first seems though. Health is a very personal topic for patients. It’s already an emotional topic for them. When a doctor is speaking to a patient and mentions the word cancer, for example, the rest of the conversation often falls away as the patient runs through the impact cancer would have on their lives even before they know if they do have it.

So, even though you need to focus on delivering messages about the way a drug works or how effective it is, you shouldn’t forget to consider the patient impact and consider how bringing in some emotion can better relate these facts.

This is even more necessary when it comes to speaking directly to HCPs. A flawed argument is that they are interested in a more rational discussion. However, doctors are people too. Many of them, like you and I, are looking for more engaging content. And the doctors who have difficulty grasping the emotional impact disease has on patients could also benefit from a more personalized approach.

How not to drown people in statistics, without skimming data or dumbing down on data

Arguing for a more emotional story doesn’t mean needing to skip, skim or dumb down data. To most effectively deliver our key messages, our job is to take the story elements and find the best way to communicate them to an audience based on their preferences, channel and strategy.

And that means, when we’re talking to audiences without scientific backgrounds, that we need to translate the data into an accessible language. For me, that’s not watering down the insights but helping contextualize and aid understanding.

You may think it’s your data getting in the way of doing this. Statistics can be overwhelming, but only when used poorly. The best data storytellers can convey complex ideas with an elegant simplicity. It’s all about identifying true insight and using it to build data into a relevant and accessible story and visualizing it in an engaging way.

The impact of lockdown and remote working on data in storytelling

As we near the end of 2020 and reflect on the communications challenges over this past year, we can also consider some opportunities the lockdown has given us.

One advantage of the new normal is the increase in use of digital platforms, with their ability to target and measure to personalize our storytelling. We can’t always tell if someone reads a pamphlet or sees a billboard, but we do know if they log on to a webinar, read an email, or click a link. Being able to better track performance allows us to review our results quickly and adapt our storytelling when needed.

While 2020 has been incredibly difficult for so many, the important work of healthcare hasn’t stopped. Now more than ever, it’s important to share research, results and information in an accessible way to your audience, by weaving the emotional and rational together.


Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

Annalise Coady
Annalise Coady
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