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How product managers make better use of data to tell a story and gain support.
I bet you use data to support your suggestions. But guess what–you are probably not using data well. By itself, data does not communicate what we want others to do. Instead, it needs to be wrapped in a story — sort of a data-story sandwich!
The person who knows how to do this is also one of the most recognized communication and persuasion experts around. We first talked with her back on episode 76 about how to structure your communication to make it easier for others to support your ideas. Her name is Nancy Duarte and she has been featured in numerous publications including Fortune, Forbes, and Fast Company, and Wired. She is the person behind numerous TED talks and keynotes, helping people prepare for important presentations. Today we discuss the concepts from her new book, Data Story: Explain Data and Inspire Action Through Story.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:10] What are the elements of a good story?
When I say story, I’m talking about the three-act structure and the power story has as a framing device. Data can be used to identify a problem we have or something we can improve upon in the future. Our brains light up when stories are told and the information becomes much more actionable.
[3:49] What are the three parts of a story?
It’s the classic beginning, middle, and end. Act one sets the stage, the action happens in the middle, and there’s resolution at the end. When you’re crafting data stories, the beginning is where you report what you found in the data, the middle is identifying what you want to change that requires human action, and the ending articulates the actions that need to be taken.
[5:20] How do you make data likable?
In the data, you state the current reality and the current world you’re in, the second act presents the opportunity, and the third act provides the actions that need to be taken to achieve the desired outcome. An example is that the demand for microchips has slowed down, the middle is that we’re still paying too much for them, and the end is that we should negotiate contracts with suppliers to pay less for them.
[13:15] Shouldn’t the data stand on its own?
There are people who are in a well-worn groove of data. They get it ready and hand it to someone else for decision-making. The ability to observe data is now happening in AI and all of that work will eventually be replaced. What AI can’t do is explain the data and encourage action. By moving in that direction, you can go from individual contributor to trusted advisor and strategist.
[14:55] What is the data point of view and how can product managers utilize it?
The data point of view is the third act of the data story. It’s deciding what actions someone needs to take based on a point of view you’ve formed about the data. For example, changing the shopping cart experience and shipping policies could increase sales by 40%.
[20:12] How does the audience figure into a data story?
Audience empathy is huge. You need to go back into the data and try to prove yourself wrong and be your own skeptic. Anticipate what people might do and what their objections might be. When you’re talking with executives, they care about money, market, and exposure. They’re trying to increase revenue, market share, and the company’s reputation. If your data story doesn’t fit into one of these three categories, it won’t get their attention.
[24:15] Can you share an example of this framework in action?
I run a creative firm with 20 project managers. I never imagined that we would be consumed with data to the point where we are. Even our creative director works in data. One of the things that is lost on us is how much intuition we need when working with data. We sometimes turn off that part of our brains when we’re working with data, when in actuality we need conviction and intuition to really make change. The intuition becomes more and more important as you move up in an organization. Looking for the data to prove every decision will slow you down.
- Nancy’s book, Data Story: Explain data and inspire action through story
- Duarte Designs — Persuasive Presentations
- How to deliver a TED-like talk
“The future is not a place you go, it is a place you will invent.” -Nancy Duarte
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.