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Tableau Community Spotlight: An Interview with Allen Hillery

Allen Hillery Bio

My name is Allen Hillery and I’m an adjunct associate at Columbia University at the School of Professional Studies’ Applied Analytics Program where I teach Storytelling with Data. I’m a freelance writer as well as a writer at Nightingale a Medium Publication of the Data Visualization Society. I have a Bachelor’s of Engineering Degree in Civil Engineering from the City College of New York and a Master’s of Science in Management Information Systems from Baruch College. I’ve spent 20 years in the data-sphere doing data reporting, analytics, and storytelling supporting sales and marketing teams and providing insights to drive the business. I also curate a LinkedIn article series that focuses on the importance of creating data narratives and spotlighting notable figures on how their use of storytelling made major impacts on society.

Twitter: @aldatavizguy


Michael: Hello, Allen. You have a passion for storytelling. Can you tell my readers why storytelling is so important to how we convey the meaning of data?

Allen: Hi Michael – Numbers alone are not memorable. Messages delivered as stories can be up to 22X more memorable than just facts. Telling a compelling story around your data helps the audience make decisions about your findings or argument easier. People are persuaded about how something made them feel in addition to just reading the facts. That’s why a narrative + visuals + data is ideal.

Michael: You teach a Storytelling with Data class at Columbia University. Can you talk a bit about the structure of the class and the kinds of activities you have your students do?

Allen: Sure, our class is set up to model how a student would encounter a project in the real world. There are a series of assignments throughout the semester that build on top of each other. A student at the start of the semester picks a company and highlights a business problem to focus on. They submit a memo as their initial assignment to the chief analytics officer identifying the need to look further into this problem. The sequence of these assignments continues with a proposal brief, storyboard, infographic, and concluding with a persuasive presentation to the CEO. Throughout this experience, the student is developing a deliverable to various audiences such as the Chief Analytics Officer, Chief Marketing Officer, and the CEO. Each audience has a varying degree of data literacy and this is where you learn to develop writing a focused and concise message as well as how far to go into the technical details. Most importantly, the goal is to derive insights from the data and display that in a way that captures the audience’s attention.


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