I recently heard a podcast by the 356labs team. Founder Boris was chatting with Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic about how to tell stories with data and the need for more effective data communication skills.
Much of what they were saying resonated with me and my own client/agency experiences over the years in the market research and finance arenas.
There is a tendency when dealing with data to try to present all findings to your client. You believe you’re doing the right thing. However, what you’re actually doing is putting the onus on them to disseminate the information and force them to determine their own conclusions.
A client perspective
Imagine you’re in a presentation and the presenter hits you with information slide after slide. After a while the key points you originally thought interesting are now forgotten, just as a new tide of information being presented increasingly weighs you down.
That’s what it feels like, in whatever arena – market research, product management, process and project management etc. The principle is the same: too much information that is insufficiently focussed.
Teaching communication skills
In short, there is insufficient emphasis on teaching colleagues how to tell a story. This concern ripples across many industries. Moshe Mikanovsky helps companies build lean software products agrees. “In Product Management, it’s critical to provide the insights and the story since most of our stakeholders are not technical and we can lose them very fast. Coming up with the storytelling approach is a struggle for many of us though.”
This issue is all too familiar; colleagues with excellent technical skills who are not versed in ‘telling’ a story. A solution would be to a) find a colleague in the team who works with words – such as the Marketing department – or b) help teach technical-oriented colleagues to adopt a new way of thinking.
Not only would this expand their skill set but a long tail approach such as this would be more beneficial to the company because it would raise the necessary standards of interpretation and communication.
In so doing, a missed opportunity becomes a long term advantage.
And the tools?
If the story is compelling, then visuals are secondary. Of course, they add to the storytelling experience but they need to add value. There are many data visualization tools out there. However, as with data communication team learning, strengthening the knowledge around what you already have – Microsoft 365 tools – is a great starting point.
Our work is primarily Excel and PowerPoint and it’s because those tools are pervasive. Everybody in the business world has them, there’s no barrier to entry.Cole Nussbaumer Knafic
Effective Message Communication presentation
Here is a short PowerPoint slide deck that helps to illustrate some of the points discussed above.
Key Points re Data Communication
- Find the story in the data and create a flow
- If using visuals, ensure they merit being shown
- Stories have endings, provide one
- Recommendations must be actionable