Monday, August 25, 2008

How to tell a GREAT data story

Many times we are asked, "How do I present my data (employee engagement, HR scorecard, customer data etc.) to management?"

I learned this lesson the HARD way. I can't tell you how many data-rich presentations I have given or listened to where managers were checking their email, drawing stick figures, or maybe even dozing off!

So, I decided it was time to get their attention at the beginning of the story. I simply moved the climax of the story right to the front. The reason being, we all know how long our executives pay attention to the spoken word and PowerPoint. If we are lucky maybe 2 minutes.

Based on our experience, we now start with a "Killer Slide." This slide tells the data story in one or two very succinct pages. For example, regarding employee engagement, management wants to know what drives it, how the company is performing in that area and what are we going to do to fix it or sustain it. Sounds like a lot for 1-2 pages, but it can be done. The rest of the story is just back up for the killer slides. Some managers will want all the details, some do not.

Another important element of a great data story, is the action plan. Give the team the facts in one to two pages, then unfold your well thought out plan for improvement. Even if the data is good, there is always room to raise the bar.

I know it is tempting to insert endless graphs, charts and verbiage. The goal of the exercise is to take action and to increase company performance not to showcase excellent Excel charting skills.

Remember who your audience is, they are not novel readers, they like the cliff-notes!

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