The One Sentence Summary

There is a science to telling engaging stories with charts.

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  • STC stands for Story Telling with Charts. It is a powerful and strategic method of communication, using visuals to communicate the story. It is a framework that’s been in place for over half a century. The method is practiced by many but only perfected to the level of intuitive adoption by senior strategy consultants in elite firms like McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, and Bain. They conduct highly secretive work and charge clients large amounts to deliver decks made up of stories they create with charts.
  • There are two main components that make up the STC framework: Horizontal Logic (HL) and Vertical Logic (VL). Vertical logic refers to the individual slides, and when put together in a structured sequence, they make up the horizontal logic. What defines the vertical logic in a slide is the relationship between the headline message or claim and the supporting material underneath that headline. Vertical logic is the mechanism that holds an individual slide together. It defines the logical relationship between the headline and the rest of the chart – hence the term vertical logic.
  • The other component of STC is the horizontal logic. This makes up the flow of your story, and it should be your starting point when designing your deck or writing the whole story. The basic idea of HL is that if you were to pull only the headlines of your charts and read them in sequence, your storyline should flow flawlessly without the need to see the charts.
  • Once you become proficient at this, you can imagine what is underneath each headline as you read the headlines, which is the VL. Think of the horizontal logic as the glue that holds the entire presentation together through the logic of the headline sequence.
  • The problem with most people doing this for the first time is that they initially start with the data and then try to work out how to best visualize it and build it into a story. While this approach may be intuitive, it’s the wrong way to go about it.
  • No one is to blame in this, because this is what most books, training, and teaching methods recommend. The focus is primarily on the VL and brushes over the HL. This is because most of these methods are developed by designers and visual artists, and not by strategists.
  • On the other hand, strategy consultants, perhaps unsurprisingly, approach this strategically. The right strategy is to start with the end goal, your strategic objectives, and the big idea. These will lead you to the identification of the issues that set the framework for the storyline. They will help to establish which of the claims and headline messages should be stated to articulate an educated guess for the hypothesis.
  • The problem we’re trying to solve in vertical logic is about supporting the claim or message we are expressing in the slide’s headline or the claim we are making. Hence, it’s about proving the hypothesis.
  • The other important concept of STC is structured thinking. Every aspect of work and life revolves around effectively structuring thoughts, plans, data, and so on. This kind of thinking requires quite a bit of discipline. As humans, we intuitively think about many things simultaneously. However, organizing your thoughts in a structured manner is as important in HL as it is in VL.
  • The magic wand for mastering horizontal logic is structure. Horizontal logic and your storyline organization are like constructing a building. You do so by starting with the right foundation, which holds the structure. Think of the foundation in HL as your story’s main idea. The structure is defined by the sub-ideas below the big idea, with each sub-idea validating or strengthening the main idea.
  • There are five phases to follow when designing a presentation:
  • Phase I develops the horizontal logic by starting with the goal and the preliminary strategic objectives, from which issues, sub-issues, and hypotheses are worked out. The main idea of this phase is to develop a long list of hypotheses that cover all possible angles.
  • Phase II expands on the issues, identifies important questions, creates a blueprint, and identifies data and analysis requirements. The idea here is not to do the work, but to plan the work.
  • Phase III generates all the charts required to support the hypotheses and claims.
  • Phase IV finalizes the hierarchy of the storyline. At this stage, the hierarchy of messages needs to be worked out.
  • Phase V is the last and most important one. Here the statements and claims of the hypotheses need to be converted into punchy headlines following the flow and sequence of charts as developed in Phase IV.


  • One message per slide is good advice.
  • It takes the same amount of time to present two ideas on one slide as it does to present two ideas on two slides.
  • If you hide the headline and view only the chart, you should be able to guess what the headline says from the content in the chart and vice versa.
  • The fewer the words to make the claim come to light, the better your claim.
  • Always work your way from the hypothesis and claim to have the visuals in mind before you jump into data mining.
  • When in doubt, plot multiple versions of the possible supporting data and pick the visual that is most suited to back the claim
  • The So What? Factor: Every time you complete a chart, ask this question at the end: So what? If the answer does not link to your strategic objectives or goal, remove it from the deck or revise it until you have an answer that directly or indirectly reinforces the big idea.
  • When presenting, try to adopt the 80/20 rule in giving and asking. That means presenting for 80% of the time, and spending at most 20% of the presentation asking them to take action or making recommendations. The 80% should be focused on content that makes them automatically want to take action and look forward to hearing what you will ask them at the end.


  • This is a highly technical book which includes some maths and a lot of detail that many will not need, but there is good advice nevertheless.