• Big Data
  • Tricia Aanderud
  • MAR 01, 2018

Trying to Persuade with Data?

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Your audience can be your friend or foe

As you are pawing through your data analysis and trying to figure out the plot for your storyline? Here’s 3 tips to keep in mind as you persuade your audience toward your startling findings.

Tip 1: Consider What Your Audience Cares About

Kiki playing with the evil Mousy-Mouse toy

Before I tell you the rest of this story I just want to mention how much I adore my cat Kiki. Consider my reaction while reading an article that cited several statistics about how many songbirds, rodents, and the like are killed each year by … you guessed it … the domestic house cat. The author further likens cats as an “invasive species” similar to the toxic pesticide DDT. (Cue outrage … What?)

Was I moved by this argument?

Considering cats are the most popular housepet in the US — what an insulting way to open. While the author presented some data and maybe even convincing statistics, his approach was misguided. What chance did he have of persuading me toward any conclusion?

It missed a very key factor that many people overlook when presenting data — the need to establish common ground.

       Common ground allows you to establish a connection with your audience.

It shows you understand the audience. Aren’t you more likely to do something your friend asks or be more open to hearing facts about something you believe?

What should the data analyst have done?

The most obvious common ground was that we both cared about animals. The topic could have been re-framed to focus on a different perspective. I have several bird feeders in my yard, so yes, I care about birds. My cats stay in the house and are fed fancy over-priced cat food.

The common ground would be finding ways to deal with the feral cat population that are causing these issues. It’s harder to tell the story from that viewpoint, but the end goal would have been realized.

Tip 2: Don’t Chase Imaginary Issues

From this article, I did wonder how big is this issue? Cats are predators and rodents and birds are lower on the food chain. This is not a new revelation. I’m not sure anyone would be happy with rodents out of control.

When persuading with data, be aware that your audience may not perceive the issue as a problem that needs to be solved. Sad but true.

       It’s a good idea to determine if the organization cares about what you are saying particularly your manager.

Even if the data story is convincing, you may have chosen a wrong time to present it or it may not be the worst issue facing the organization. So check in with others to make sure your timing is right.

Tip 3: Find a Solution

When I have discussed data stories with other data analysts, several had war stories of what didn’t work when presenting their analysis.

A common complaint is when your manager understands that the data shows an issue, but says “so what?”

Managers want to hear solutions for how to solve issues as opposed to always just pointing out the issue exists.

While you may not know what the organization should do, it’s a good idea to talk to others. They may know what can be done to solve the issue and you can work together. You would be armed with the data to support their solution. It’s a win for both of you.

Your Takeaway

Data professionals have to consider the environment around them when creating a data story. It’s not enough to find an issue and then start raising a red flag.

Consider your audience and craft your message in a way that they can hear bad news, consider if others even consider the issue a problem, and then work with others to solve the issue.

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