Breathing Life Into Boring Data
Data is incredibly useful, but it’s also incredibly boring. It’s so boring that even though you know that this information is vital, you’ll likely struggle not to fall asleep while communicating it to your leadership team, whose eyes likely glazed over some time ago.
So, how can we breathe life into boring data? How can we make this information entertaining enough to convince even someone who knows nothing about internal comms that this information is not only important but interesting?
The answer is to communicate data through storytelling. Storytelling is a universally popular means to share information and for good reason. Stories are interesting, and they help people to retain what you’re telling them much better than they would if you simply rattled off facts and data to them.
How do we do that though? How can we turn boring data points into a compelling story that intrigues our audience? In this article, we’ll discuss ways to bring your data to life in exciting ways that can improve your internal communications and your office’s work culture as a result.
Why should you use storytelling?
Do you ever feel like that you’re wasting your breath on presentations? Perhaps you’ve thought about chucking something into the audience when you see someone playing on their phone rather than paying attention?
Microsoft performed a study on attention spans, and they found that since the year 2000, attention spans have dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds. That’s bad news for you and your boring data, can you hear the snoring yet?
That means that you have just 8 seconds to capture your audience’s attention before their brain drifts off to what they’ll be having for lunch that day. That’s if they even heard anything that you’ve said to start with. The good news though is that stories can make data 22 times more memorable.
How does data become a story?
The most important element of storytelling is to make sure that you’re telling a story that your management team cares about. You might focus on thinking a little less about how you present the information and a little more about how it would be received.
Try creating your story in a way that it would be interesting and comprehended by someone who has no idea what you’re talking about. Good stories can convey information on nearly any subject in a way that it’s easy to understand and even fun. That’s why they’re so popular with children.
When in front of leadership, less is always more. Use your final draft to edit away unnecessary information so your recipients can focus on the parts of the report that you most want them to understand and remember later.
Don’t present data as a boring corporate drone. Instead, find a way to convey information in a relatable way. While it’s common to focus on success stories, you should also not be afraid to tell a story about failure. Everyone can relate to failure, and it’s often a good way to pose this as a learning for the future.
Humans make most of their decisions based on emotion, and if you can convince your listener to become emotionally invested in your story, then you’ve won. Channel the salespeople at your company. They have known this for years, but it can benefit nearly everyone who has a job to do.
65% of the population are visual learners. That’s why videos and infographics have become so popular, and if you can incorporate them into your story, then you’ll be able to immediately capture and hold your audience’s attention.
You’ll also likely want to incorporate real-world examples, especially those that use actual scenarios that your company has faced. It’s much easier for people to learn from data and remember it when they know how it is applicable to real life.
Data visualizations are an excellent way to convey important statistics that you may need to report like Employee Net Promoter Scores or intranet usage. You can use this to show how your internal communications strategy is working or to pinpoint areas for improvement.
How to build a data story
It’s likely that at some point in school you were tasked with writing a story, and your teacher probably told you to plan your story before writing it. You can use this same technique for telling data stories. So, the first step to building a data story is to establish what that story is about.
Identify the problem that you’re trying to solve
In most cases, you’ll be tasked to solve some type of problem and data will play an important role in this. If you, for example, were to roll out a new intranet, then your story might revolve around any plans you made for this, tests that you’ve done and the results achieved by those tests.
What is the solution to your problem?
Okay, so using the same example, let’s say that you have decided that you want to increase visits. Rather than pumping out content, you ask your audience aka your employees in this case what they liked and didn’t like about your previous site. Make changes around their feedback. Then, sit back, relax, and measure…
Using the results from this experiment, you could then dig down and find any patterns. Did you experience a huge increase in adoption of the intranet? If you did, then this is a story that people care about hearing.
Talk about the benefits of adopting your solution
Here’s where you can start weaving your data points into your story in a way that others will care about them. Everyone wants to know how this will benefit them.
Use the data you’ve collected to explain the positive benefits. These might show increases in productivity, the percentage of employees who are logging in, or survey results where employees showed more work satisfaction.
This is likely a great place for some data visualization to come into play as well. Good charts and graphs can really sell the effectiveness of your solution because they take boring numbers and turn them into interesting graphics which look much more significant to the casual observer.
Give them the bullet points
The truth is that you could spend hours crafting an amazingly beautiful story and there will still be many people who still won’t care. They want the most important information and they want it right now.
Round out your report by including a list of the most important parts of your presentation. Perhaps the facts that you most want them to take away from your experiment.
Talk about your next steps
Can your idea be improved upon with perhaps some additional budgeting? Perhaps your solution could also be used to make other areas of your communication efforts more efficient? You can add this to your story as well, but don’t overwhelm with information overload.
Leading through storytelling
Like it or not, you have something to sell. Your IC solutions are your product, and in order to sell them effectively to your co-workers and executives, you need to be a leader.
Something that many great leaders have in common is that they are actually great storytellers. They share personal anecdotes with their employees, and they know how to connect with them on a human level.
This is important because that human connection is what inspires change. They transform jobs into careers, and they make people feel like they are doing something worthwhile.
If you take a moment to evaluate who you are planning to create this story for, then you likely already know how best to connect with them. You’ll know what kind of communication style works best, how they like to receive information and whether they want a full on report or just the most important bits.
In closing, it’s very important to write a great story, but it’s also important to write a great story for the right person. The best storytellers can craft a story that their audience wants to hear, rather than try to force a story upon them that they don’t care about.