Is Your Data Presentation a Tangled Mess?
Computers have brought us to an age where data can be wrangled 8 ways to Sunday in a matter of nano-seconds. Some people call that the "heavy lifting" of data analytics. In my opinion, the toughest lifting of data analytics is when the data has to be communicated to an audience to create change. If you don't communicate data effectively with your audience, the data is worthless... because nothing changed.
So how can we untangle our data mess to create a clear message that creates change? Here are 5 tips to help get you there.
1. Know Your Goal
You've been asked to speak for a reason. Know what that reason is before you build your message. I know you've been in presentations just like me where the speaker dumps a load of data on the audience. The "show-up-and-throw-up" practice of data presentations is not what the audience is looking for.
There are 4 primary goals for presenting data. You are either informing, interpreting, recommending, or influencing. Select your primary mission for speaking to this audience and use this as your guiding light for deciding how much data or which kinds of data should be included in your message.
2. Connect Data to Your Audience
People don't care about data or even what it means... but they do care about how the data affects them. In other words, how does this information affect them personally? their group? their organization? I'm reminded of the movie Jerry Maguire when Ray, Dorothy's scene-stealing son, tells Jerry the human head weighs 8 pounds. It's just data, unless that noggin weight affects you directly.
In the same scene, Jerry responds to Ray with sports trivia about Troy Aikman's NFL passing statistics. Again... this is just trivia. It's meaningless to the audience... unless the audience is Troy Aikman, The Dallas Cowboys, or Jerry Maguire (a sports agent), because all of those people stand to profit from those amazing statistics.
It is trivial, until it isn't. When does trivia become more than trivia? When it affects you directly. Think about how the data affects the audience and then show them.
3. Use a Through Line
If the audience cares, but they can't follow you, they will check out. The longer my wife and I are married, the more we seem to read each other's minds. After 28 years, we've learned how best to communicate with each other. We've also learned how the other person interprets information. We have certain lenses or filters that tend to color our interpretations, like we all do.
When you speak to an audience, they want to see your "through line" for the message. Using Hollywood movie terminology, the through line is the story line for the audience. While scenes may jump from one time or location to another, we need to see how the dots connect. Think about your message and show how you moved from one dot to the next. Use an iSpeak message model aligned with your goal for speaking.
4. Engage With the Data
Logic alone never makes a decision. There's always a feeling attached to it. That feeling may be nothing more than "confidence" in the data, but that's still a feeling. For us as humans to engage with numbers, it must be meaningful and relatable. According to Chip Heath and Karla Starr in their book Making Numbers Count, the human species relates best to smaller numbers. That doesn't mean we can't logically understand a large number like 256,000... it just means we don't relate to it like we do with the number 9.
If there were 256,000 people displaced by an earthquake, I can understand it, but I can't properly relate or engage with it. But if there are 9 baseball players on a team, I can picture that and relate to it. Using one of the examples Heath and Starr give in their book, they recommend making a scale model of something so we can relate to it better. Instead of telling people that Mt. Everest is over 29,000 feet above sea level, you could say something like this...
If humans were the height of 6 playing cards stacked flat on top of each other then Mt. Everest would be the height of a suburban two-story home with an attic!
5. Give Them "The Ask"
In our messaging workshops I'm always surprised when learners ask if they can include transitions to label the sections of their message for the audience. My response is always the same, "YES! Please do!!!" Show them when you move from one section of your message to another and if you need something from the audience, make your ask crystal clear!
In North American culture, an inductive approach to messaging is appreciated. Give the audience your answer first (or ask first). Then, provide your data-supported message using a strong through line. Include engaging data to connect the feeling to the numbers with all of it pointing to the reason why the audience should care. Finally, give them the ask one more time at the very end.
You've Got This!
Presenting data analytics is about much more than just the data. It's about what the data tells us AND how that affects the humans in the audience. If you or your team wants help, check out our Presenting Data Analytics workshop. Let's make it easy for our audience to follow our messages.
Remember, the more difficult we make it on the audience to follow, the more likely they will quit. Now go watch that video clip above if you haven't already!
Until next time...
Russ Peterson Jr.
Russ Peterson Jr. is the co-founder and President of iSpeak, Inc. – An award-winning professional development training company. Russ is a speaker, international trainer, and published author on Professional Sales Communication and Business Communication. He delivers workshops, keynotes, and personal communication coaching services to business professionals in the US and around the world. iSpeak helps people build stronger relationships and achieve more through better communication. You can connect with Russ directly through LinkedIn.
P.S. Will you be at ATD22 in Orlando on May 16-18?
If so, come by our booth (#1036) and say howdy! If you mention you read this blog post we’ll give you a free hard-cover edition of our presentation messaging book Corporate Ovations. See you in a few weeks!