Persuading with Data: Mistakes to Avoid, Tips for Success


(Image: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock)

(Image: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock)

Each conference I attend brings me more insight about the analytics field. Sometimes it's something practical such as how to make my code faster. Many times it's how to be a better analyst.

One common issue analysts face is how to present data that changes mindsets, as the late Hans Rosling would say. To a data analyst, there is nothing more exciting than the data revealing insights about real business issues. But it is completely deflating to present the insights and have nothing happen. At this past SAS Global Forum, I found a few insights of my own on how to overcome this situation.

Don't Over Dazzle Them

One attendee revealed that he wasn't persuasive until he understood how to talk to the audience in front of him. This user had a Ph.D. in statistical analysis so it's fair to say that he knew a little about the subject. During his first job, he wasn't having much success when presenting his analysis to the management staff. Finally a manager said that the presentations had such advanced analytics he felt stupid because he frequently didn't understand what was being presented and was afraid to ask questions in front of others.

Ouch! In his effort to dazzle with this brilliant insight, he had failed to consider the audience. When presenting to business leaders, consider how much analysis is necessary to make your case. Perhaps talking about standard deviations and t-tests are too much detail or detail at the wrong level. It depends on the company culture. Many times managers want a higher level of detail. If you are worried that the detailed analysis is required, consider adding some backup slides. In this case, the attendee learned that his ability to persuade with data analysis had to match his audience's level of understanding.

Make the Issue Smaller

At breakfast an attendee commented that he knew his school could rise from a third position to the top position in the state. When thinking about all the work involved, it felt like a big challenge to me. After discussing the issue, I advised him to consider adding the human to the data since the audience may be more drawn to helping individual students become better than the district as a whole. People like to help other people and educators like to help students, right? I walked away feeling pretty smug and enjoying some fresh coffee.

Later when I was talking to another attendee, he offered some additional insight. Sometimes the number one position for the school may be as close as just 50 students showing improvement. This thought reduced the size of the issue. Instead of "how do we bring the entire school district to number one?" it could be "how do help 50 students excel in their academic careers?" Then you can present specific instances of these students and learn what was needed in each case. Perhaps the team would be able to find simple and cost effective solutions to move the school district forward.

What have you learned about persuading with data?

Tricia Aanderud, Senior SAS Consultant for Zencos

Tricia Aanderud, Director, Data Visualization Practice at Zencos Consulting, provides SAS Consulting services to organizations that need assistance understanding how to transform their data into meaningful reports and dashboards. She has co-authored three books with her most recent title "Introduction to SAS Visual Analytics". She regularly shares data visualization tips and SAS knowledge through her BI Notes blog (http://www.bi-notes.com). Tricia has a background in technical writing, process engineering, and customer service. She has been an enthusiastic SAS user since 2002 and has presented papers at the SAS Global Forum and other industry conferences.

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Re: Defenitely agree
  • 4/19/2017 6:55:53 AM
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@Louis  Oh what a great way to get people to lower their defenses! It probably makes them listen a little closer as well.  

Your comment makes me think about how nuisanced a presentation can be. The speaker is controlling a lot of factors - audience, message, and being ready to handle questions that may be from left-field.

Oh thanks for the compliment.  <blush> :-)

Re: Defenitely agree
  • 4/17/2017 10:15:21 PM
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No Tricia, I am sure you come across as warm and friendly as you are ! : )     I think in general though, coming across as warm and friendly goes a long way towards convincing others to listen to your message.

One technique I like to use during a presentation is to relate how difficult it was for me at first to grasp the concept I am conveying.

I know when I am a part of the audience, it helps to understand that the expert wasn't always an expert.

Re: Defenitely agree
  • 4/17/2017 10:14:44 PM
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No Tricia, I am sure you come across as warm and friendly as you are ! : )     I think in general though, coming across as warm and friendly goes a long way towards convincing others to listen to your message.

One technique I like to use during a presentation is to relate how difficult it was for me at first to grasp the concept I am conveying.

I know when I am a part of the audience, it helps to understand that the expert wasn't always an expert.

Re: Defenitely agree
  • 4/14/2017 8:52:53 AM
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Do you have any tips I can use in my next talk?  :-)

Re: Nix the over-dazzling and KISS
  • 4/14/2017 8:52:25 AM
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I think many people don't understand how to sell or that it is a skill just like analyzing data.

Re: Defenitely agree
  • 4/14/2017 8:51:47 AM
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Lol ... your last statement. ;-)

 

Re: Nix the over-dazzling and KISS
  • 4/14/2017 8:51:05 AM
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I have done this table talk twice now and each time someone has commented - "What if I cannot sell my ideas at all?"

My advise was to "make sure you are on topic with your management". What I mean is that if your manager (or someone!) in your organization doesn't think your point is relevant - then maybe its not.  Or maybe it's not relevant to the company right now.

Even I think this is somewhat of cop-out advise!  My first issue is that I don't know if the person does have a point - maybe their idea really is stupid or maybe their presentations are poorly done ... or maybe their data is bad ... or maybe their manager doesn't like them ... or (something else entirely) 

However it's a table talk so doesn't seem like the place to say - let's ignore everyone and focus on YOU. 

What are your thoughts?

 

Re: Defenitely agree
  • 4/14/2017 8:33:39 AM
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I often worry that I do this - when consulting you have to talk about what you do and how you have had success to attract new customers. 

Also I find that its easy to get "attacked" when doing public talks so I often talk about my own experiences. Its difficult for someone to tell me what I did or did not experience.

However, I think you are thinking more of those who talk for 40 minutes and don't really say anything. 

Re: Defenitely agree
  • 4/13/2017 7:13:30 PM
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@danmedina   Welcome to A2 !    And I couldn't agree more with your position on arrogance, I know personally if I get the feeling that someone is arrogant then their message is lost.  

There are only a handful of people who impress me and most of them have long since past away.    

Ironically, My last statement could be construed as arrogance.  Oh well.

Re: Defenitely agree
  • 4/12/2017 11:43:25 PM
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..

Dan Medina writes that


... what I've learned during the last couple of years is that we don't need to be arrogant and try to show off our analytics skills, instead we need to share our knowledge in a digestible way.


 

Excellent point. I find it kinda ridiculous how many teachers (and this includes presenters at conferences and seminars) focus on themselves and exhibiting their own expertise rather than focusing on the audience and what they need to learn.

..

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