Turn Data Into Insights and Stories That Hook Your Stakeholders

Dana Youngren Written by Dana Youngren

You’ve spent months collecting data with your insights team or research vendors, and you’ve compiled your research into a presentation that you think is going to blow your audience away. But now that you’re presenting crucial data on the behavior of your company’s customers, all you see are blank stares and yawns from key stakeholders.

It’s a scenario customer insights (CI) professionals know all too well. Fortunately, there is a way to ensure the information you’ve gleaned reaches your audience in an engaging way—ultimately increasing your CI team’s influence on the company as a whole.

It’s storytelling.

Now, before you worry that we’re telling you to recite fables and fairy tales to key decision-makers, we’re not. We’re simply suggesting that data and reports tell a story, and when you present that story—rather than relying only on figures and statistics alone—you’re more likely to reach your audience.

In fact, research shows that combining statistics with storytelling results in a retention rate of 65-70 percent. So, how do you take advantage of this fact when presenting key CI data and reports?

Below are tips to help you turn data into insights and present those insights through stories.

Understand the Business Objectives You’re Trying to Solve

All companies have certain goals they’re working toward. If you want the information you’re presenting to have an impact at your company, you have to understand and articulate exactly how that information can drive change that brings you closer to reaching those goals.

If you’re having trouble defining how the data and reports you want to present can help your organization achieve its business objectives, you most likely have one of two problems:

  1. You don’t understand the objectives or the data well enough.
  2. The information you want to present isn’t relevant.

In the first case, you may need to conduct additional research or meet with business leaders to clarify their objectives. In the second, it’s probably best just to scrap the information altogether.

Tailor Your Message to Your Audience

To maximize the impact of your story, you have to consider who’s hearing it.

When you’re presenting to someone in finance, try to cover how your findings can help the company save money. When you’re talking to Marketing or Sales, explain how the information can drive new leads and close more deals. When you’re talking to the product team, explain how they can deliver a better solution.

The more you can address their concerns in the language they use and the context they understand, the bigger the impact your story will have.

Ask yourself:

  • ­­How much does my audience already know about the subject I’m covering?
  • How much time do they have to listen to what I’m saying?
  • What are their primary concerns?
  • What type of language do they use to communicate?
  • Are there preconceptions I need to address?

Understand the Structure of a Story

While stories come in various shapes, sizes, tones, and genres, they all have a few things in common—one of those being a similar structure.

Algis Budry, a science fiction writer, believed all stories follow this seven-point plot structure:

  1. A character,
  2. in a situation,
  3. with a problem,
  4. who tries repeatedly to solve his problem,
  5. but repeatedly fails, (usually making the problem worse),
  6. then, at the climax of the story, makes a final attempt (which might either succeed or fail, depending on the kind of story it is), after which
  7. the result is “validated” in a way that makes it clear that what we saw was, in fact, the final result.

By framing your data and reports in this narrative structure, you’re more likely to keep your audience interested and get them to relate to the information. (And hopefully, you’ll even persuade them to take action.)

Hook Your Audience Early

When presenting, don’t think you can start slow and build up excitement—research suggests you only have about 30 to 60 seconds to capture your audience’s attention. After that, you’ve lost them.

And getting them back won’t be easy.

That’s why you need a hook—a way to start your story that’s so engaging and compelling your audience can’t help but listen.

According to Matthew Luhn, a writer, story consultant, and speaker who has experience working with Pixar, The Simpsons, and more, a compelling hook is at least one of the following:

  • Unusual
  • Unexpected
  • Action-filled
  • Driven by conflict

When sharing your research, you could hook your audience by leading with a finding that goes against prevailing assumptions, or a specific example of a customer struggling with a problem that your product could solve. Find a hook that evokes a strong emotion so that your story will stick with listeners and drive them to make decisions.

Let Your Audience Keep Engaging with Your Stories

Once you turn data into insights and insights into impactful stories, make sure you get as much mileage out of them as possible. You can retell your stories by uploading your presentations to an insights platform that all your stakeholders can access.

Look for opportunities to add relevant images, data visualization, audio, and video where they will help add context and enrich the story. Stakeholders can then revisit the stories when they need to, or share them with other people who will benefit from the information they contain.

Conclusion

By following the steps above, you can take the data and reports that others often find dry and boring—no matter how much you disagree—and turn them into compelling, engaging, and persuasive stories.

This process of developing and distributing insights stories will empower you and your team to have a more strategic impact on your company as a whole by demonstrating the potential outcomes of changing business practices based on research.

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