Data Storytelling with use of Color and Charts

Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

As part of my role, very often, I work on client proposals, and the output of it is usually in the form of PowerPoint presentations. What makes it fun is that this is a team effort and teams across engineering, pre-sales, sales, marketing, legal, finance, and HR work together in these proposals. I get to work with several such proposals in which my task is to make the presentation impactful with data storytelling.

Presentations come in several forms – the good, the bad, the ugly and the great ones. One thing that I had observed from the great ones is the intelligent use of colours with data, appropriate charts and the headlines that convey what the slide is all about.

Since this is a season of webinars and virtual presentations, I thought of sharing one method which is simple to use at the same time help you to make impactful data presentations.

Here is a brief background for this presentation slide.

Amidst COVID, Company A’s management team is looking at the spend of various departments and wants to prioritize, which spend needs to be optimized from a short-term saving perspective. They also want to look at department level spends to prioritize any long-term strategic initiatives. The management intends to target the top-15 spend items based on value.

A typical representation will be in the form of bar-chart like the one below, it is devoid of any data storytelling elements.

Bar chart for accounts payable in alphabetical order of vendors


The above bar chart is a simple bar-chart with data labels within the bars, clear color choices for data labels and bars. But does it convey anything except there are 15 vendors and a bunch of some random spends?

What do you think will be the psyche of the presenter and the audience (in this case, top executives of the organization)?

Now, the next best way to do this representation is to sort the spend from biggest to smallest, and this gives a clear idea of which vendor accounts for the most to the least spend. This representation tells a story of your accounts payable situation.

This one is similar to the above chart, with clear data labels within bars, use of colour that is easy on eyes, free of grid lines which enables a neat representation. The scale on x-axis can be taken off to make it even better.

Bar chart for accounts payable descending order - highest to lowest spend - data storytelling step one

But, is there a way to make it even better to aid in decision making?


The following bar chart shows that just three vendors account for 40% of the spend, and they are highlighted with the use of colour variation, which helps in building your data narrative.


Remember to not use multiple colours as that will lead to confusion. It is better to use a variation of a base colour, as it serves the purpose of highlight and lowlight.

With this chart, anyone running this presentation will be able to articulate the story better. And the executives know where to focus their attention when it comes to spend optimization.

Bar chart on accounts payable in descending order of values and highlighted for top-three spends by vendor - data storytelling step two


The other way to further help in decision making is to provide additional inputs along with the bar chart – with the category of spends, current spend vs forecast or comparing against similar quarter or last quarter spend which gives a sense of the expense trend specific to the category. It strengthens your approach to craft a narrative around data.
One can also add specific intelligence like spend on strategic initiatives that give long term benefits and then context-specific information such as COVID related spend.

By using this approach, anyone new to the decision-making process will be able to make an informed decision with the amount of intelligence that is provided in the chart.

Bar chart on accounts payable with spends categorized based on different functions and with additional comment - data storytelling step three


To make your visual & data storytelling better, use the right choice of colours and pair it with data, meaningfully categorize data based on categories, and provide additional inputs wherever possible. I have used the variations of this method in different scenarios, and it helped me in making an impactful presentation.

Have you tried data storytelling in your analytics proposals or meetings on financial projections? Trust me, you will see meetings becoming a lot more outcome-driven when you start practising storytelling.  

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