Analytics professionals need to be communicators. Just being technically proficient is longer enough. It is not enough to slap a report or dashboard together on the go. Rather, we have the responsibility to help the business get information out of their data. This is especially true as data volumes continue to grow. I wrote about this in a recent blog post.
The question though is how to best do this. Earlier this week, I came across an excellent blog post by web analytics guru Avinash Kaushik. His November 5th post provides a detailed example of how to convert a complex data set into a compelling story. I highly encourage you to spend some time reading this inspiring blog post.
The experts at Decker Communications just released their annual list of the top ten best and worst communicators. I always look forward to this annual article. Not only is it interesting but it is also entertaining and sometimes a bit sad. I highly recommend spending a few minutes going through their blog post. There is a lot to be learned from the best (and the worst…).
Communication skills are more important today than ever before. There is so much noise around us. Being heard amongst all the information frenzy requires us to continuously work on our skills. In his amazing book You’ve got to be believed to be heard, Bert Decker sums that up nicely:
“The message for all of us is clear: Whatever our life goals, our career goals, or our dreams of a better world, the key to success lies in our ability to communicate. No matter how uncomfortable or ill-equipped we feel as communicators, we dare not back away from the challenge of becoming effective speakers.”
Over the past few years, I have attended more conferences than I can remember. Unfortunately, there are always a few people who deliver extremely poor presentations. Some of them simply do not care. Others are extremely nervous. And some of them simply have nothing to say. But the result is always the same: a lot of wasted time (think about the audience loosing 45 minutes of their lives) and the speaker’s reputation is often damaged (would you purchase expensive software or services from the arrogant person who could not articulate a clear message?).
Presentation coach Jerry Weissman states:
“If any one presentation fails, there may be no tomorrow. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
NEW YEAR, NEW GOALS
2011 is almost over. Towards year-end, most of us sit down to make goals for the next year. Working on communication skills is always on my personal list. So, what can you do? Here are a few ideas:
Let me be blunt and honest: Too many presentations and their accompanying slide decks absolutely suck. And they especially suck when it comes to displaying and discussing data. Over the past few years, I have sat through days- worth of boring and utterly useless presentations. Such a waste! And there was so much potential: great data points and valuable information. But all this was well hidden behind complex and confusing charts. And believe it or not: that is a problem for business analytics.
THE PRESENTATION PARADOX
We spend so much time and money on implementing business analytics software. We create so many awesome reports and dashboards. There is so much potential. But way too many people take this valuable information and literally destroy it by using the trusted information to create useless and complex slides. Those slides are then presented in meetings where we try to sell ideas and we where try to make collective decisions. But due to the convoluted slides (often coupled with poor communication skills) most messages fall flat on their face. I am tempted to say that the ‘last mile’ of business analytics is broken in these cases. It’s about time to fix that.
A CRITICAL SKILL
Famous statistician and popular data guru Hans Rosling famously discussed this issue and compared the presentation of data to playing music: “…few people will appreciate the music if I just show them the notes. Most of us need to listen to the music to understand how beautiful it is. But often that’s how we present statistics: we just show the notes, we don’t play the music.” It is not enough to create a sophistcated data warehouse and some shiny reports. No, we need to make the data sing when we present it to other people an especially larger audiences. Developing solid presentation skills should therefore be high up on the priority list for anybody who works in the area of business analytics.
There is a big difference between presenting insights to an audience (meetings, events, etc.) and analyzing data at our desks. Following a presentation requires a different level of energy and focus: it is a lot harder to follow in many cases. Our brain tries to juggle processing the information on the slides while listening to the speaker. We therefore need to make it easy for our audiences to receive the messages that we have found and prepared. The reports and charts that work at our desks do not necessarily work in a meeting room. We have to think differently. And that’s the disconnect we often see and that Hans Rosling aludes to: we do not think differently and simply show confusing details when we should be showing a clear story. We are short-selling our efforts and the impact of our insights in effect.
But there is good news. Learning how to present and how to tell an inspiring story using data in a presentation does not have to be complicated. In a few days from now I will share some tips & tricks that you can put to immediate use. Start thinking about those presentations! As always, I am curious to find out what your experiences with this are.