Telling a Clear Story with Data
By: Jen Garofalo | 04/11/2016
When you work with statistics, it’s easy to get into the habit of presenting them with charts and spreadsheets. Unfortunately, many of our partners in business don’t have the background to understand the significance of our findings. Many people find data presentation to be dry and boring; stories often make it easier to understand what we’re presenting and relevant to the listener’s point of view.
Josh London, IDG’s CMO, says of marketers, “They are looking for performance and trust.” One of the best ways to build trust is to prove performance. The challenge is to present performance data in a concise fashion that resonates with marketers and decision-makers. To engage, that data needs to tell a clear story. Here are 5 ideas to consider.
6 Tips to Tell a Clear Story with Data
- Think about how you’re sorting your results. If you’re trying to convey the best social media channel to use for a particular industry, don’t list them alphabetically, but rather by the strength of the impact. For example, if LinkedIn provides the best results for an approach, it should be at the top of your list, not in the middle between Facebook and Pinterest.
- Use good quality imagery. Though visuals are a great way to convey the importance of our data, it’s just as important to provide focus for the particular data set you’re trying to convey. A great way to do this is by highlighting the data set you want to emphasize to convey the difference from the remaining data. The presentation design can achieve this by using brighter color, a stronger line or other method that draws that data set forward and makes the others recede. Label your charts comprehensively without going overboard — keep it simple.
- Mark out points of change. If you’re trying to convey performance across time, you’ll want to highlight the change that happened when a new technique was applied. Don’t be afraid to mark this point on your visual representations so it’s easy to see the difference prior to and after the change was made, and make sure you discuss the change that was made and the effect it had on performance in your talking points.
- Don’t data-pack your presentation. Whoever said, “less is more,” was right. Though it can be tempting to show the relevance of all the data, remember that your audience is more interested in what’s relevant to their business. Refine your talking points and visuals until they’re easy to comprehend by the average marketing professional.
- Clearly compare data. Without a point of reference, your data is just that – facts out of context. In your visuals, show your baseline, control or competitor’s data to show performance. If you have multivariate data, show this information visually, whether it’s different demographics, locations or similar differences, while discussing patterns that have appeared and how it impacts or predicts future behavior. In your talking points, discuss the why and how of the change you’re trying to convey.
- Verify, verify, verify. If your results seem too good to be true, run them again and make sure you haven’t missed an important detail. Proofread your slide deck or document for any errors in spelling or grammar. Remember, for many marketers, your data is only as good as your presentation.
By taking steps to show differences, degrees of change, and simplify the picture, you can help your data tell an engaging story that is relevant to your client’s interests and aspirations. Tie clarity and simplicity to relevance and performance to get your point across with less time and confusion. Your fact-based story helps gives clients confidence that they can make a great choice with minimal explanation of statistics.