Using Data Stories to Inspire Action
In all my years working in research and analysis, the most frustrating is seeing great data go nowhere. Data should be a driver of decisions and action. Otherwise, why bother collecting it?
The most effective way to turn data into a persuasive tool is to structure it like a story. Over decades working with organizations to optimize their data analysis, I’ve seen time and time again that data storytelling is the most effective and, not to mention, the most efficient method to get teams within organizations on the same page and speaking the same language. Here’s how to do it:
Know your audience: Great storytellers understand the motivations of that audience. That might be entirely different depending on who makes up that audience. For instance, the motives of a board of directors are going to be very different than those of your colleagues in the marketing department. If you’re going to present your data to different audiences, then you require two different presentations.
To check whether you understand your audience, ask yourself: what are their priorities? What are their thoughts on the issue at hand? Who are the decision makers? If you’re unsure, do some investigation until you feel confident you know your audience.
Know what needs to be communicated: Have you ever left a presentation wondering why two team members seemed to have different takeaways? That’s because your presentation didn’t explicitly declare (and stick to) the message you wanted everyone to remember. When you don’t control the idea, your audience will take your data and define their conclusions as to what to do with their findings. (These conclusions are usually in their best interest.)
Defining your controlling idea usually goes back to why you collected this data in the first place. Was it to solve a problem? Identify an opportunity? Explain a trend? A good controlling idea should be action-oriented and contribute to the business – and once you have it defined, your presentation should get you to that destination as clearly as possible.
Engage through logical and relevant evidence: A lot of us in the research and analysis fields cringe at the idea of “selling our findings.” But as I mentioned in the previous point, if we don’t offer a clear message, our audience is going to come to their own interpretations on what to do with the information we’ve collected.
But that doesn’t mean that we have to be inauthentic to persuade our organization to act on our findings that. We can “sell” our findings in a meaningful way by linking them to logical and relevant evidence that inspires and connects with our audience. Focus on business truths. Why is this an issue; what are the layers of consequence? What are we solving? The objective is to align with the audience on what’s next to achieve your long term goal.
Data stories connect the dots between insights, implications, and actions. As the storyteller, you’re taking your audience on a purposeful journey through the data in a way that provides a clear picture of what’s possible when they take action. In fact, data stories told well end up taking on a life of their own. Because when you can effectively persuade your audience why they should act, then they can articulate what can and will be different if they execute your recommendations – compelling change without you even being present.