Wednesday, May 13, 2015

tell your audience what you want them to know

It sounds simple. It sounds obvious. But how often do people give a presentation or send out a report or email without ever making it clear what they want you to know? 

Have you ever looked at a graph and thought, I'm not sure what I'm meant to get out of this? Or sat through a presentation or meeting only to realize once it's over that you're not really sure what you just witnessed?

I listened to a presentation last week where the person speaking put up a busy-looking, data-heavy slide. It wasn't a good slide, but the speaker was clearly comfortable on stage and knowledgable about his topic, so I was motivated to understand what he was trying to communicate. Then he said a few magic words: "what this is meant to show is..." followed by a clearly articulated statement. It is amazing how those simple words can make the intimidating accessible.

The effect these words had on me was to generate more patience on my part (and even a little curiosity) to understand what the slide was showing. The speaker knew what he wanted the audience to get out of it and walked us through the visual in a way that made sense. It still wasn't a fantastic visual - there are changes that could have made it more effective - but his words overcame this shortcoming.

Tell your audience what you want them to know.

It's simple advice, but the impact can be profound!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

storytelling with data...scribed!

I was in Dallas earlier this week and had the opportunity to talk about storytelling with data with a few different groups. One of those was the DFW Data Visualization and Infographics Meetup. This afforded me the pleasure of meeting Randy Krum, president and founder of InfoNewt, and John Colaruotolo from Collective Next, who (as far as I'm concerned) is able to create magic with pens and a whiteboard. Here is the latter's creation, which he completed during my talk:
Download full-sized here.

My experience with meetups is that people tend to flee pretty quickly after the presentation and Q&A. This isn't surprising - in most cases, people have shown up after a full day of work and are understandably anxious to point themselves towards home when the 9PM hour strikes. 

But this meetup was different. After my talk, people congregated around John's whiteboard creation in awe. Taking it in was like reliving parts of the presentation they'd just experienced, but with a slightly different twist. For me, it was fascinating to see a visual replay of what I'd just said: seen and heard through someone else's eyes and ears.

I overheard one person describing this as a superpower. As in, "yes, John has a super power that many of us do not have." I thought this was an interesting perspective. And very cool - when you consider that probably most people you encounter have some sort of superpower that you do not personally possess. John's superpower was palpable. Or at least, I stood in awe. He was...

listening...

intepreting...

drawing...

ALL AT THE SAME TIME. 

Crazy. Brilliant. Beautiful.

That's all I have to say.

Well - not quite all. Big thanks to Randy (@rtkrum) for hosting a great event and to John (@johncolaruotolo, www.collectivenext.com) for capturing it on a (beautiful) whiteboard!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

selling your data

A participant made a comment after my public workshop in Dallas this morning that went something like this: "I'm in sales. I was whispering to my colleague during part of your presentation that really what you're doing is selling your data - it's just that nobody recognizes that's what you're doing."

At first, I was put off by this. Selling my data? No, that has the wrong connotation.

But upon reflecting a little more, I realized that is a part of what I'm doing (and teaching others to do as well). To be clear, this is not about overselling, but rather making your data something people want to pay attention to. There must be corollaries between that and creating something that people want to buy, right? I think so.

So I pondered...

What makes somebody want to buy something? Here are a couple things that come to my mind when I reflect on this question and how we can translate to storytelling with data:
  • It must look good. Packaging is important. If a product doesn't look good, no one is going to buy it. Beyond that, studies have shown that consumers tend to have more patience with aesthetic designs. If your data visualization (or the broader communication in which the data visualization sits) doesn't look nice, your audience may not pay adequate attention to it. Or put more positively, creating an aesthetically pleasing design can foster goodwill in your audience, making it more likely that they'll have patience and spend time with your visual or communication. 
  • The product must meet the users' needs. A good product is designed with the end-users' needs in mind. The same is true for good data visualization, yet so often we fail to pause and think about the audience who is on the receiving end of the communication. What do they care about? What are their needs? How do I make what I want to communicate work for them? Success in communicating with data does not follow creating a data visualization that works for you; success is making a data visualization that works for your audience. 
  • It must win over the competition. When it comes to purchasing, there are a lot of things competing for share of wallet. To win in a competitive marketplace, a product must be better than alternatives in one or more ways. Translating to communicating: there are a lot of things competing for our time. You likely face a busy audience, yet you need them to devote time to listening to your presentation or reading your report. For that, it must be better than alternatives. Which brings me back to my first two points.
These are just some quick thoughts on the topic. I'm sure there are other parallels we can draw. If any come to mind, please leave a comment with your thoughts.

Beth, if you're reading this, thanks for the thought-provoking comment!

I'll end with a couple of pics from today's public workshop in Dallas so those of you reading who weren't there can be jealous of all of the fun we had (yes, we even used crayons, courtesy of white space). If you'd like to take part in a future session, check out my public workshops page to register or suggest a location.