The ways to present data from consumer insights certainly can be endless and, at times, can be driven by personal preference. But personal preference for how the data is presented doesn’t always mean it will resonate with the audience.
This article discusses ways to share stories with data to help drive action within your customer-first company, including:
- The steps to tell meaningful stories with data
- Clarity about the storyline
- Details to include
- Data within context
- Story pacing
- Business integration
- Understanding your audience
- Timing of the presentation
- Next steps
- Believing in your skills
What goes into storytelling with data?
A few items are worth considering when we want to present data meaningfully. That includes being clear about the story, knowing what details to include, understanding your audience, and more, which I discuss in this section.
“It’s not the data; these are human beings we are talking about,” said Brad Dancer, SVP of global strategy and data analytics at WWE. “They are buying products, watching videos, whatever it might be. So don’t lose sight of that.”
Be clear about the story
Data should tell a story and not just be a data dump. Consider following this process:
- Be clear upfront about what it is you are trying to accomplish
- Ask the right questions that draw out the answers that can help you tell that meaningful story
- Document answers in a way that allows you to tell that story
- Keep an open mind when reviewing responses and determine the main story and sub-stories that are worth sharing
- Outline the story you are trying to share, and what key points from the research need to be used
- Determine how to share the data engagingly and use strategic content types – like video, graphics, the customers’ voice through video, etc.
Be picky about what to include
Stakeholders don’t need to know every little detail about the survey itself or how much time it took, but they need to know the findings and what it means to them to run a successful piece of the business.
For example, many researchers share their methodology prominently. I’ve done that, too, in our weekly consumer study articles. “Here’s how we did what I’m about to tell you.” But people likely care more about the result than how we got there.
“I will stand on this firmly: Stop presenting the methodology at the beginning of a presentation,” Brad said. “I’m amazed by the industry that we feel like we have to defend ourselves at the beginning of every presentation and talk about how we did it.”
Of course, Brad continues, we need to use the proper methodology in the project, but that doesn’t mean it should take center stage in a presentation to stakeholders. Indeed, you can answer questions about it if there are any.
“As soon as you put the methodology first, it opens up questions, especially from people who are already suspicious of what the data might say,” Brad said. “Let’s just get to what’s important.”
That also includes keeping it simple and short, Brad said.
Read next: What are actionable insights anyway?
- use the right colors
- no more than one idea per slide
- use videos of consumers to bring the story to life
Data within context
Add context to any data that you share. For example, “Sixty percent of consumers shared a positive sentiment.” OK, but what does that mean? Is that high, low, an increase, decrease? What can we learn from it?
“Data is great and tells you a lot, but without the insights on top of that, you won’t understand how to run your business,” Brad said.
Tell the story at the right speed
Keep in mind that trends evolve, but also, what data is available can change. For example, streaming data wasn’t a thing years ago; neither was video survey software that analyzed responses. The speed has increased in analysis.
That might mean that information is released quicker than would have happened years ago. Insights might be shared as short nuggets as opposed to a full-blown report.
“It depends on what the information is,” Brad said. “Let’s say I’m doing a deep market analysis on a country. That has to be complete before it’s released. Now, if we are doing a study on improving on a show and we are on three times a week. If we do a show on Monday, get feedback Tuesday morning, and the writers are getting together Tuesday afternoon, I don’t have any choice. Or it looks like the insights team isn’t keeping up.”
Integration across the business
It’s also important to stretch the story across the entire business when it makes sense. For example, different products affect each other.
“At the end, a fan isn’t going to look at WWE as Raw on Monday, SmackDown on Friday, or Wrestlemania on the weekend,” Brad said. “That’s just the brand, and they are experiencing it in different ways.”
Insights gathered from one area of the business can offer knowledge to other areas of the business.
Understand your audience
It’s hard – if not impossible – to share data in a way that drives results if you don’t understand the internal audience. To start, consider remembering this tip from Brian Monschein when it comes to updating stakeholders: Consider what they already know.
Also, consider how much time they have, and think about what you know about their preferred communication styles. For example, some people prefer quick updates before meetings. Think bullet points, maybe a video of a consumer highlight – like in this consumer study on the iPhone 14. If they are prone to watching videos in a place where they can’t turn on the audio, make sure there are closed captions and other ways to understand the content.
And they shouldn’t care how long it took us to get an answer. It’s about getting to the point quickly and in a way that is enlightening to them. And don’t tell them how to do their jobs. Be a partner.
Brad remembers a presentation early in his career that discussed a project that didn’t work. As a young researcher, he had the correct answers, but as he called it, “pile-driving them” into the meeting with the stakeholders doesn’t earn any goodwill.
“There are ways to do this that are more impactful,” Brad said. “Understand their business and appreciate that. Know who is in the audience and help them.”
Understanding your audience also includes understanding the specific service line, how it makes money, and current problems and opportunities. Without it, it’s impossible to make an impact.
Respecting everyone’s time
Not many people want to be talked to for 30 minutes. Be interactive, make it enjoyable, and respect everyone’s time. Some people might go from meeting to meeting all day. Find a way to make it exciting and get them engaged.
“Respect other people’s time, their needs, deadlines, and what they have in front of them and have to do for their bosses,” Brad said.
Some information may not have to be shared in a presentation but could be shared on a public Slack channel—for example, the insights team at WWE shares tidbits about fans that way.
“People were going, ‘I had no idea,'” Brad said. “It’s just finding your path to get the information across.”
Read the room
There are ways to notice whether or not your message is coming across positively. First, read the body language in the room to try to get a sense of what stakeholders are thinking. Then, if they feel disengaged, make it fun and draw their attention back in.
“It’s really about knowing who your audience is,” Brad said. “I’ve spent most of my life trying to get data across to people who probably didn’t want to be in the room with me. They want the information; they didn’t want to go through the process.”
Not all meetings and presentation timeslots are created equal. Consider when the best time would be for your particular audience. Are they early risers? Mid-morning people? Or when are they most likely to give you the most attention? I find right after lunch to be a horrible spot for meetings. People just ate and are trying to settle back in. Some are ready for naps.
So consider all these factors when scheduling a meeting. Sometimes, it’s not possible to get a preferred slot, but at least it’s worth thinking about when planning the time.
No matter the time slot, you’ll want to engage your audience. That can be done through humor, interactivity, and presentation style.
“A humorist approach catches people off guard a little bit,” Brad said. “And not self-deprecating humor like ‘Here I am for a three-hour presentation. Ha ha.’ There’s enough of that.”
We’ve all been in meetings – even when they were good – and the next steps were missing. OK, good stuff, and now what? Onto the next meeting, I suppose. Consider the next steps you can add at the end of each discussion. That could be as simple as following up with something in a week or two.
Believe in your skills
“In the industry I work in, we work with storytellers,” said Brad. “It can be intimating for an analyst living in spreadsheets and data. They are going into a room of creatives who may not want to hear or aren’t prepared to hear a boring presentation with data.”
Know that getting lost in the data or the storyline can be easy. And remember the end goal to stay on the right path. Brad gave the example of a lengthy, costly, and time-intensive project presented to the executive team in a high-level story.
“It was a very impactful project,” Brad said. “But all that work resulted in three slides submitted to the executive team that resulted in maybe 30 minutes of discussion.”
Ultimately, the research had a business impact because of its guidance and the way it was presented in an easily digestible format. So don’t get hung up on having to share every detail you have, but share the ones that can have the most significant impact.