Storytelling with Data in Excel

A course teaching the design principles required to make plots that really have an impact on the reader, using the Excel software package.


Monday 18 – Tuesday 19 November (2 days IN PERSON, Massey University, Wellington)

Fee structure

Full-time students

Everyone else


Mark Griffin
Mark Griffin

Dr Mark Griffin is Director of Insight Social Research & Statistics (, an Australian organisation that focuses on research methodologies, including survey design and statistics, for public health, monitoring, and evaluation for government and non-government organisations, and academic research. Mark has presented courses around Australia for many years, including many for ACSPRI, which has provided many of our NZSSN instructors over the years.

Course outline

Studies have shown that readers will only spend 3–8 seconds looking at each plot in a report before deciding whether to invest more time examining it or to move on with the report (Nussbaumer Knaflic 2015). As data illustrators, we need to design plots very carefully so that within that very brief time window we:

  • highlight the key pattern that we want readers to take away from the plot (we should not expect readers to be able to identify this for themselves)
  • motivate the reader to a “Call to Action” (to perform a certain action or make a certain business decision)
  • motivate the reader to invest additional time and mental effort in discerning what else they might be able to learn from the plot.

This workshop has two objectives – to teach the design principles required to make plots that really stand out for the reader, and to teach the practical skills required to create these plots within Excel. It is relevant to any employee or consultant who is writing reports or producing PowerPoint slides that really need to stand out for their readers.

Day one

  • Types of plots
  • What is a key message?
  • What is a Call to Action?
  • What is Instant Recognition?
  • How to produce different basic plots in Excel
  • How to prepare your data for visualisation

Day two

  • Using various components in the best way possible to achieve Instant Recognition
    • Colour
    • Size
    • Location
    • Reference lines and arrows
    • Titles
    • Text annotations and footnotes.


Nussbaumer Knaflic C (2015). Storytelling with data: A data visualisation guide for business professionals. Wiley,