Have you ever been impressed by a coworker who was able to quickly call to mind a relevant statistic to back up their argument in a meeting? Or perhaps they came to the meeting armed with a presentation featuring convincing data analysis, presented through easily understood graphs and charts.
While incorporating data into your own work may seem like an intimidating prospect, the reality is that anyone can learn to use data to enhance their arguments and presentations.
On the recent NextGen online training, How to Use Data to Make Your Point, Scott Beliveau, Branch Chief, Advanced Analytics, United States Patent and Trademark Office, shared tips on how to strategically and effectively incorporate data into your work. He divided his advice into three general categories.
Keep It Simple
- Make your data snackable
Audiences that are overwhelmed with information will not recall any of it. The key is to break your data down to a scale where it can easily be read, understood and remembered.
- Know your audience
Understanding their level of knowledge can be an important factor in determining how best to present your data, or even which data to use. No one has to be a data expert to understand a well-constructed graph, but aiming your information to your audience’s level of comprehension will help ensure that it sticks.
- Describe something in a few sentences or as a haiku
This relates to the first point. Short and sweet is the gold standard when it comes to incorporating data into your presentations. By setting an intentional limit for yourself, you are forced to use your data in creative ways.
- Try to sell a message, a feeling or an awareness
Straight numbers can be a bit on the dry side. Instead, think about what you want your audience to take away and focus on that. The more relatable and concrete your thesis is, the more likely that it will be convincing and memorable.
Sell Your Message
- Data visualizations have the power to persuade, inform and call to action
Imagine your coworkers stepping out of the (virtual) conference room after you finish presenting. What exactly do you want them to do? To remember? Use your data to drive home the action that you would like to see taken.
- Understand descriptive versus prescriptive analytics
Relating to the point above, it’s important to differentiate between the types of data you’re using. Are your numbers telling people what is happening, or suggesting what could happen if your plan was followed? Using the right kind of data at the right juncture can be the key to building support and momentum for your ideas.
- Be able to present a story
All data has a story to tell, but it’s up to you to bring that story out into the world. Putting your data into a narrative format will make your argument more understandable, more engaging and more convincing.
Use the Right Tools
- Visuals are great for communicating ideas
According to Beliveau, when information is paired with visuals it is about 70% easier for people to remember. Charts, graphs and graphics can take boring numbers and make them appealing and readily understandable, so incorporating them into your presentation can make a big difference.
- Confusion and clutter are failures of design
Despite your best efforts, data can be difficult for your audience. Don’t make things harder by cramming unnecessary information onto a slide or omitting labels from your graphs and charts. The cleaner your data, the clearer your argument.
- Consider what you are comfortable with
Excel? Microsoft Paint? A piece of paper and some colored pencils? You may not be a professional data scientist, but there are still many tools available to you for manipulating, analyzing and presenting data. Working to become comfortable with them will enhance your ability to meaningfully incorporate it into your work.
A final note that Beliveau made, relevant to all three points, is that when using data, considering Section 508 compliance issues may be appropriate or even required. After all, you want to ensure that your wonderful presentation and convincing arguments are accessible to all.