Remembering Data Insights: Strategy on Packaging Unforgettable Data Stories

Getting Data Insights Into Memory

Taking the raw mass of numbers and turning them into visual stories sounds ideal for interpreting complex data quickly.

data memory

It’s a technique that’s of nearly immeasurable value for entrepreneurs, corporate execs, and all manners of professionals. After all, these people often possess vast product knowledge or know the ins and outs of different aspects related to the organization. However, showing them a bunch of numbers that haven’t been filtered or formed into something digestible, is akin to speaking in tongues.

Conversely, these highly skilled individuals can flourish when data is presented in a way that they can sink their teeth into. The otherwise indecipherable numbers are suddenly transformed into actionable insights that can – for instance – help develop a new product or discover an untapped market.

Of course, this all SOUNDS peachy—in theory. Yet, in practice, we might fail to use the kind of visualization and auditory strategies that strike the right chord. Thus, our data story may as well be written in an ancient alien dialect.

As data storytellers, bringing clarity to this information primarily depends on our knowledge of these different memory types:

  • Iconic
  • Short term
  • Long term

Let’s take a closer look at these forms of information retention and assess how they can be incorporated into our data stories:

Defining the Three Crucial Memory-Types:

Iconic Memory

  • This centers around visual memorization and is incredibly brief.
  • How does your brain remember an image you saw in the past few seconds?
  • An example would be an image flashing on your television for a few milliseconds:
    • When the image disappears, your brain remembers it, fleetingly.
    • After half a second, anything remembered becomes short-term memory.

Short Term Memory

  • These memories are marginally more extended than the iconic variety, spanning a few minutes.
  • Such memories are segments of our brains, retaining information until it must be recalled.
  • It’s also called “working memory,” the capacity for this form of recall is low.
  • When information enters our short-term memory, it either disappears into the ether or becomes part of or long-term memory.

Long Term Memory

  • This is the brain’s storage system, wherein it manages and recalls information.
  • Examples of such memories could be an event that occurred five minutes. Conversely, we could remember the socks we wore at our Cousin Lou’s wedding 20 years ago.
  • Long term memories can be conscious, necessitating our active thinking to recall a fact.
  • They can also be unconscious and not require any active prompting:
    • This occurs when we remember the route from home to work when we’re on ‘autopilot.’ There’s no need to actively thinking about navigation.

One Memory-Type Can’t Exist Without the Other.

Iconic memory is based on the entirety of our sensory experience, filtering out what’s most vital and relevant to our short-term memories.

Once something has entered our short-term memory, it’ll only last for 20 seconds if we don’t rehearse. An example of this would be repeating a phone number we’ve been verbally told until we have a pen and paper to write it down. If this process is disrupted, the memory of the phone-number might evaporate.

Depending on how often we need to recall that phone number, it might enter our long-term memories. If we have to dial it enough times, it might become an unconscious memory.

The crucial takeaway here is that these memory types connect with each other. As data storytellers, we have to ensure the transition from iconic, all the way to long-term occurs without a hitch.

Applying the Three Types of Memory to Our Data Story Topics

The data story topic is going to be what lays the velvet for the rest of a presentation. It’s the first thing our audiences hear when they’re introduced to the story.

In short, it’s going to be the difference-maker in ensuring that the information we provide moves on from the iconic memory to the short-term. 

Remember that audiences generally exist in their own niche. We must create engaging topics that hook their attention so that we don’t lose people right out of the gate. Sure, the data being explained is highly intriguing and could do wonders for their business. But our clients won’t retain a single thing if the topic isn’t presented in a way to pique their curiosity.

When the topic is intriguing, at the very least, the attention of the audience is grabbed—iconic memories move into the short term.

Tip: Start with answering the most commonly asked question that only the data can answer. By answering this one question in a clear and meaningful way, the end user will be more motivated to spend time diving into the details. 

It’s then time to take it to the next step to ensure the short-term memory transitions into the long-term.

Achieving the Desired end Result

Say that we turned our audience’s heads with an enticing topic choice that frames the data in a relevant manner.

If we follow up with bland explanations, with zero narrative or zeal, all the initial legwork was for nothing.

For our data stories to stick the landing, the entire process must be ironed out. The only way we can provide data insights in a way that resonates and sticks in long term memories is by making it digestible throughout the presentation. Otherwise, there’s not much that our clients can do with the information.

Tip: Storyboarding is one way to layout the data story presentation and determine if there are opportunities to streamline. Design principles, such as Gestalt Principles, can be leveraged to use visual representations to help the end user quickly understand the information presented.

Always Consider the Three Memory Types

While we can look at these memory-types as sequential through your data stories, they almost coincide.

From the beginning to the end of our presentations, we should consider how to ignite visual and auditory senses to make information stick.

The initial process of turning iconic memories into short-term is probably a little less intensive then transitioning to the long-term. Ensuring that information remains in a client’s mind necessitates a powerful voice, eye-catching (yet easily understandable) visuals, and repetition. By skimming through data at lightning speed, no matter how engaging, the audience doesn’t have the opportunity to retain it.

We must take the time to let our audience process the information and reiterate it in different – yet equally understandable – contexts. This will help ensure the data becomes part of our long term memories, and that it can be actioned to the benefit of their professional endeavors.

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Written by Ali Allage