Numbers and statistics. Charts and graphs. As a data analyst, this complex information excites me. But when I try to communicate insights to my non-data colleagues, their eyes often glaze over faster than a maple glazed donut. I used to lead with the data, opening my presentations with slide after slide of detailed charts. But I learned the hard way that I first needed to grab their attention with an intriguing story that framed the data.
This revelation hit me last year when I was asked to present monthly sales figures to our executive team. As I excitedly revealed an animated map showing impressive regional growth trends, I was met with vacant stares and stifled yawns. Realizing my mistake, I paused. “Let me backup and provide some context,” I offered. I then described how our Southern California expansion defied expectations, painting a verbal picture so vivid they could practically smell the In-N-Out Burger and feel the San Diego sunshine. That got their attention! I spotted some raised eyebrows and leaning-in body language. Now they were primed and eager to dive into the data I had prepared.
I’ve found the key is transforming dull data into memorable narratives, full of relatable details and surprising insights. Think of yourself not just as an analyst, but also as a storyteller and artist. But where to begin with weaving data into vibrant stories? Here are my top tips after plenty of trial and error.
First, know your audience so you can connect with what they care about. Get into their heads. Executives will likely care about growth, budgets and beating the competition. Creative teams might be more compelled by stories related to audience engagement and delight.
Next, hunt for intriguing data points that capture attention and lend themselves to an exciting narrative. Look for unexpected changes, outliers, reversals of fortune, record highs or lows…anything that elicits a “Wow, I didn’t expect that!” reaction.
Then, use those attention-grabbing data points as your cornerstone and build a story framework around them. Perhaps personify key metrics to drive home insights. Bring dry numbers to life by imagining them as characters with hopes, dreams and goals. Give the underdog metric a comeback story or have the star metric hit an unexpected roadblock to overcome.
Along the way, embed vivid details through judicious use of analogy, anecdote and sensorial description. Compare website traffic to lines at the opening of a hot new food truck or convey scale through analogies like football stadiums filled or Olympic swimming pools brimming over.
Finally, bookend your data story with clear takeaways so your audience knows what to actually do with all this new information. Circle back to priorities or decisions that should be informed by the data you’ve shared.
Following these tips has worked wonders for boosting my communication impact. Just last week, our CEO fist pumped the air when my data revealed we had surpassed our closest industry competitor in customer satisfaction scores. “I felt like I was reading a thriller!” she remarked. Always be on the hunt for ways to transform dense datasets into memorable, engaging stories. Treat your audiences not as just brains to fill with facts and figures, but also as hearts to inspire and hands to empower towards meaningful action. Now, who wants to grab coffee and hear my latest data download?