Data Storytelling 4 Min Video By Hans Rosling

Hans Rosling’s 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes – The Joy of State – BBC Four video published in November 2010 is still one of my favourite examples of Data Storytelling.

Many credit data visualisation and technology used for this amazing video but in my view the beating heart of this fantastic data storytelling video is Hans Rosling’s ability to storytell. I have been fortunate to meet him and witness his magic in person.

I have decoded key learnings from this video which have helped several of my clients make their own data presentations meaningful. As Hans Rosling himself says,

” having the data is not enough,

I have to show it in ways people both enjoy and understand”

I am listing the key learnings below for anyone who wants to use them and  make their own data led presentations enjoyable and understandable.

But of course, you have to watch this 4 min video first, none of the key learnings can be understood without watching this video

Let me start by stating that the spontaneity in this video is only an illusion, there are methods that can be decoded, learnt and applied.

Here are some of them,

Lesson #1 at .33 secs of the video 

Rosling Introduces the X and Y axis with key numbers on each axis. In Y axis, 20 years , 50 years and 75 years. In X axis income $400, $4,000 and $40,000. I am yet to come across anyone who presents data and uses this technique. Most of us think, its already there on the slide, why bother? However, an introduction reduces conginitive load on your audience. They are not having to look and figure it out whilst you are presenting. You can watch this 60 sec video to understand more about cognitive load.

Lesson #2 at .47 secs of the video 

Giving audience an idea that if they see data in a certain place on the graph what that indicates. He says , ” Down here is poor and sick and up here is rich and healthy.” This again is a way to reduce cognitive load. You are preparing your audience before you start showing the data and not leaving them to figure it out for themselves.

Lesson #3 at .59 secs of the video 

Rosling starts with, ” what was it like in the past and uses a time-marker 1810. You can watch my 60 sec video explaining how to start a story with a time marker here.

Lesson #4 at 1.16 mins of the video 

Rosling says, ” In 1810 it was pretty crowded down here. In lesson #2 we observed that he has already told the audience, if they see the data in a certain place in the graph it means people are sick and poor. So, he is now using that space on the graph to tell people that majority of world’s population is here.

Think about your presentations, how can you make such references which are easy to understand.

Lesson #5 at 1.25 mins of the video 

He points out that for the majority of the population life expectancy was below 40 years and only speaks of the exceptions being UK and Netherlands.

Use this technique in your presentation to highlight a trend, pattern or anomaly from data.

Lesson #6 at 1.38 mins of the video 

He is sharing an insight on what is  causing the numbers to move versus just stating the number is moving. This is a very common mistake in data led presentations, we often hear presenters say, ” our revenue dropped, picked etc but rarely do they ever get down to explaining what causes for the numbers to behave the way it did.

Lesson #7 at 1.52 mins  of the video 

Whilst talking about the impact of the first world war and spanish epidemic flu. Rosling uses a word of emotion” what a catastrophe ! ” to bring feelings in to the communication. In dry corporate communication we often do not use words of emotion. When you show impact of numbers not leading to desired results, it is a good practice to use words of emotion to induce feeling in to a communication You can watch my 60 sec video here to understand this point here

Lesson #8 at 2.18 mins  of the video 

He talks about the second world war and its impact on global health. He starts by giving the gist of the year versus , ” It was a great year” . Usually, we start talking about what happened without giving audience a clear understanding of whether it was a good thing or a bad thing. You can watch a 60 sec video here explaining the same point

Lesson #9 at 2.27 mins of the video 

He brings humour to the presentation by saying,”  Sweden topped the Winter Olympics and I was born.” This makes his communication  personal and funny.

Think about presenting a lot of insights from data and just before you present the most relevant one you say, ” and this is the one I am most proud of because I worked hard to get to the bottom of it. ” Add personal feelings towards presentation breaks the monotony and engages your audience.

Lesson #10 at 2.32 mins of the video 

Here Rosling shares the key finding that the gap between the countries was the widest and then he zooms into some countries which reiterate that there is huge difference amongst the countries

Out next blog will cover rest of the key learnings from this data storytelling video.


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