Steve Wexler is Here to Help You Tell a Better Story with Data Viz
What’s the difference between a dashboard and a data story? Wait, there’s a difference, you ask? Absolutely yes, and today’s guest is here to help explain why.
Steve Wexler is the founder of Data Revelations, a data visualization consultancy. He has worked with ADP, Gallup, Johnson & Johnson, Deloitte, ExxonMobil, Tableau Software, Microsoft, Convergys, Bayer, Disney, Consumer Reports, The Economist, Axios, SurveyMonkey, ConEd, D&B, Marist College, Cornell University, Stanford University, Tradeweb, Tiffany, McKinsey & Company, and many other organizations to help them understand and visualize their data.
A winner of numerous data visualization honors and awards, Steve also serves on the advisory board of the Data Visualization Society. His presentations and workshops combine an extraordinary level of product mastery with real-world experience gained through developing thousands of visualizations for clients. Steve has taught tens of thousands of people in both large and small organizations.
He is the author of The Big Picture: How to Use Data Visualization to Make Better Decisions—Faster and coauthor of The Big Book of Dashboards: Visualizing Your Data Using Real-World Business Scenarios.
And in this episode, Steve communicates some spot-on advice on enabling better business decisions using your data presentation and dashboards!
In This Episode, You’ll Learn…
- What you should do when you see the ‘scaredy cat icon’ in his books
- The most vital differences between a dashboard and a data presentation or data story.
- Why Charles Minard’s infamous Napoleon March map is brilliant but falls short for modern data viz.
- Why pie charts are mostly used incorrectly and bar charts are so effective!
- The Comet Chart as an effective alternative to bar and pie charts.
- How the Moiré pattern can occur in a bar chart and create a nauseating effect.
- How “scrollytelling” is being incorporated into content for successful data storytelling.
People, Blogs, and Resources Mentioned
- Book: Mistakes Were Made, (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts
- Book: The Data Detective: Ten Easy Rules to Make Sense of Statistics
- Show: Ted Lasso
- My free 30-second online assessment to find out and overcome the #1 silent killer of your data presentation success
How to Connect with Steve Wexler:
Where I’m Speaking Next:
- September 28th, 2021: MeasureSummit Virtual Comference 2021
Thanks for Listening!
Thanks so much for joining me. Have some feedback you’d like to share, or a question? Leave a note in the comments below, and we’ll get back to you!
If you liked what you heard, I would love if you could leave me a rating or review in iTunes. Ratings & reviews are extremely appreciated and very important in the rankings algorithm. The more ratings, the better chance of fellow practitioners getting to hear this helpful information!
And finally, always remember: viz responsibly, my friends.
[00:00:00] LP: Hey, hey, hey. Lea Pica here. Today's guest can show you the deeper, more powerful mechanics behind visual storytelling and how it applies to your data. Stay tuned to find out who's pulling back the curtain on the Present Beyond Measure Show, Episode 67.
[00:00:16] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the Present Beyond Measure Show, a podcast at the intersection of analytics, data visualization, and presentation awesomeness. You'll learn the best tips, tools, and techniques for creating analytics visualizations and presentations that inspire data-driven decisions and move you forward. If you're ready to get your insights understood and acted upon, you're in the right place. And now your host, Lea Pica.
[00:00:43] LP: Hello, dear listener, and welcome to the 67th episode of the Present Beyond Measure Show, the only podcast at the intersection of presentation, data visualization, storytelling, and analytics. This is the place to be if you're ready to make maximum impact and create credibility through thoughtfully presented insights, data, and ideas.
I have a really fantastic episode planned for you today. But first, I just wanted to catch you up. I'm ramping up my speaking circuit once again. First and foremost, this month I'll be delivering my signature PICA Protocol Masterclass for a virtual event called the Young Pros for the Advertising Research Foundation. This is on July 22nd, where you'll learn my proprietary four-step methodology for designing visually compelling data stories for business meetings. It's 90 minutes packed with goodness. You do need to be a member to sign up. I can't recommend them as a membership for professional practitioners enough, so visit the arf.org to find out more.
Psst! Are you busy next Thursday, the 15th at 2:00 PM, Eastern? If not and you're looking to ratchet up your data storytelling skills a few notches, please come join me for my signature webinar, Three Keys to Overcoming Data Presentation Zombification. It's totally free, and you'll learn some of my top secret presentation and data viz strategies that have got me top-flight marks in my analytics and digital agency days. It's fun, it's interactive, and I promise it's zombie-free. Visit leapica.com/3keys, the number 3, to register today.
One last little plug before we get started. If you haven't heard already on the show, I am launching my very first data storytelling book. It's now slated for early 2022, very exciting, lucky number. If you're interested in finding out exclusive details, first looks, even some ways to participate, you can get on the waiting list at leapica.com/thebook. That’s all of the little housekeeping stuff I wanted to get out of the way. I'm always excited to meet you, interact with you, and these are some great ways for us to get to know each other better.
As usual, I am super excited for today's guest but, in particular, I love bringing on subject matter experts who dive super deep into an area of the data presentation process. For the last few episodes, we've been going dashboard hog-wild, so I'm changing it up today with a thought leader who eats, breathes, and lives visual storytelling. Definitely my favorite aspect about this work. This was an incredibly fascinating conversation that I hope will fire up a few new pathways for you to explore as well and action.
[00:03:57] LP: Hello. Today's guest is the CEO of the Visual Storytelling Institute or VSI, a seasoned digital marketing strategist with over 20 years of experience, having worked both on the agency and the brand sides for Fortune 100 and 500 brands such as Nokia, IBM, and American Express. At VSI, he helps brands connect better with their audiences through visual storytelling consulting, training, production, and thought leadership. He teaches brand storytelling at the University of Miami's Business School, and he has a book, Total Acuity: Tales with Marketing Morals to Help You Create Richer Visual Brand Stories. He is the host of his own Visual Storytelling Today podcast. Fantastic. Please help me welcome our latest guest, Shlomi Ron. Hello.
[00:04:51] SR: Thank you so much, Lea. I'm super excited to be here.
[00:04:53] LP: I'm so glad to have you. So we came to know each other on LinkedIn. When I looked in and reviewed the kind of work that you do, as you know, this show speaks to practitioners in the corporate field who present data. But what I love is that you have very specific experience in teaching brands visual storytelling, and I thought that could offer some big insights for the listeners here. So first, before we dive in, I'd love to hear your origin story. Everyone loves that. So how is it you came to be in the place that you are now? What did that path look like?
[00:05:33] SR: Yeah. First of all, I would say all of you listening or watching is definitely pay attention to your side hustles because sometimes your big story is waiting there. That at least was in my case, as you rightly indicated. I have a background in marketing, working for major brands. But throughout my career, I was always nursing my sad passions and kind of lending self in two areas. One is just as a hobby. I took an interest in Italian language classes. So for 10 years, every Saturday, while I was living in New York, there in San Diego, then back in New York, I would take Italian language classes. As we kind of advanced in the levels, we ditched the textbooks and start watching classic films from the ‘40s, the ‘50s.
That's where it kind of threw me on a path of interesting classic Italian cinema. I started my own blog still live, cafePellicola.com, where I would write film reviews and really treat it from a film spectator perspective. I'm not a professional critic, so that was a lot of fun just to get the filmmaking language. I also went to some festivals where I would curate the films and run Q&A sessions. That was one part. The other part was video art. My father-in-law was one of the early pioneers of video art [inaudible 00:06:52]. His video installations are collected in major museums like the Guggenheim, the Whitney, and others. Yeah. He passed away in ’09. Since then, my wife and I managed the estate, working with other galleries to preserve his legacy.
Pretty much, you see marketing on one hand and art or visual stories on the other. So when I relocated from New York to Miami about four years ago, I figured I'd pay my dues to corporate America and I wanted to create my own imprint, so to speak. That's where I started listening to storytelling podcast and realized that there's a really great, whole, brave, new world with visual storytelling. So I started the Visual Storytelling Institute, and my mission is really to bring the gospel of visual storytelling from the world of art, the way Hollywood has been telling stories for eons, engaging audiences, and use the same principles in the context of marketing.
[00:07:50] LP: That is so fantastic. We are definitely going to get long for sure. It’s so funny. I also love certain Italian film when I was over younger like It's a Beautiful Life and things like that. But I, too, also thought I was going to be a film critic. When I was young, I remember actually writing critiques of films in my diary as like a pre-teenager, and they were absolutely ludicrous. However, I think for sure, when you have that deep love of cinema especially, there's something that you have intuitively inside of you that understands how story mechanics work and the power of them. There's a resonance there.
[00:08:38] SR: By the way, you might want to check. There is a famous Italian actress from the ‘50s and ‘60s, Tina Pica. So I don’t know if you knew that, but you have heritage behind your last name.
[00:08:50] LP: I didn’t. Well, it's my ex-married name, but I'll have to check that out. That's wonderful. Yeah. Monica Bellucci is actually my favorite Italian actress, but I'll have to look her up. So I like to help people understand what it is your current passion is, helping people do. So if you were locked in a room with one of the listeners for three hours or a team, what would you help them be able to do by the time you come out of that room?
[00:09:19] SR: It's really depend, obviously, on the objective as what they’re trying to accomplish and getting clients from a variety of reasons. Typically, I've created my own training framework. It's called my visual story, and it has three parts. The first one is story making, and it's all about really going step by step and generating their brand narrative statement. In my book, the narrative is really your big why, why people should care in the first place.
Once you have this, what I call GPS narratives, your GPS, where you’re headed, what you're trying to accomplish, what emotions you want to generate, then you can move to the second phase, which is really the story visualizing. Then it's all about developing a content strategy and creating visual stories that pretty much work as proof points to your narrative. They actually validate your narrative and give it meaning.
Once we have the visual stories, then we move to the next, the last step, which is storytelling. This is really where you learn how to communicate those visual stories across channels in stages of the buyer’s journey. So it's really kind of end-to-end process. The story making is the brand strategy, the story visualizing is the production or the content creation, and the storytelling is actually the marketing, the distribution.
[00:10:37] LP: I see. Okay. That process makes a lot of sense. Since this is what you live and breathe and do, I love to ask, what does story mean to you? How would you describe that like right off the bat?
[00:10:53] SR: Yeah. Typically, when I start my introduction to visual storytelling, I go over, “Anybody know what story mean?” You'll get a typical answer. It’s the beginning, middle, and end. That's really where it stops.
[00:11:07] LP: You’re like, “Okay, yeah.”
[00:11:10] SR: I mean, the bare bone formula or the secret formula that has been used for eons, it's setting conflict resolution. You definitely can get other formulas much more elaborate on the Freytag’s Pyramid to others. But no matter how you slice it, those three components needs to be there, not necessarily in the same order. You can start with a conflict and also not necessarily all explicit. If, for example, using images, you have the situation where the setting or the conflict could be influential. Something that the user actually complete the story in their mind.
I actually talked about it. I wrote a very popular blog post about it. It's called Five Easy Ways to Create Narrative Images, and it talks about really how can you tell a story with images by focusing on a different part on the timeline. So you can tell the story like if it took place in the past. Or is it taking place right now? Or is it going to take place in the future? So depending on where you're going to place the focus on, you can actually play with the timeline. But if you ask me more kind of figuratively what story mean, I would say a story is like a mirror. In order for it to work, it needs to reflect the personal story of the audience.
[00:12:40] LP: Say that one more time. That is very important what you just said.
[00:12:45] SR: Yeah. When you think about any communication, it's a tango between I'm the brand and you are the audience. In order for you to be completely engaged and for me to accomplish my goal, I need to hit that sweet spot that really overlap between what I want, what my brand story is all about, and what is your personal story, what is your pain points. That sweet spot is right in the middle. So from that aspect, when we talk about stories, in order for them to be effective, they need to mirror the personal story and ideally using the same language, the pain points that the audience is actually using to describe the problem because you want to reach a point where your audience is thinking to themselves.
Again, it could be different storytelling, whatever story genre used that they're going to think, “Wow. What you're talking about here just happened to me last week. That was exactly the problem I ran across. You’re talking about my story. This is my problem.” That transition point where your story stopped becoming your story as a brand but becoming your audience story, that's what you want to achieve.
[00:14:03] LP: I am so glad that you're framing it this way that it's how your story is mirroring the journey of the people you're speaking to. I'm so glad that you brought up the common answer for stories’ beginning, middle, and end. Each day has a beginning, middle, and end. A meeting might have a beginning, middle, and end. But that doesn't mean there's a story in there. What you described, setting conflict resolution is so important because, for me, when I answered this question for people, a story has those parts, and it facilitates a transformation for the audience because they're inspired to emulate the journey that you're taking them on. That means making the audience you in that way. That is so powerful.
In that line, what is visual storytelling? I've heard this phrase many times and I work in data storytelling. But for you, what is it and why is it so important to brands and anyone who's sharing information?
[00:15:12] SR: Yeah. When I started my journey four years ago, I would Google visual storytelling and I would find only references to filmmaking, graphic design, or photography. There was nothing in the context of marketing. So pretty much I had to come up with my own definition, and even so I had to write a blog post about it. Today, if you just Google visual storytelling, you'll see right away on the number one position. So my definition is very simple. It's any marketing strategy that has three components. The first one is that you use the three-act story structures. As we talked about, [inaudible 00:15:45] conflict resolution. Again, not every component needs to be present. It could be inferred and not necessarily in the same order.
The second condition is that you place your customer as the hero of the story. So it's not about you or the brand. You're just the guide or the mentor along the way because marketers have a tendency to take all their attention with their products. The last part is pretty obvious. You want to use a visual media format to communicate your story through. So that could be images, videos, infographics, graphs, charts, things that you do. That’s pretty much why I tend to focus on this area. The reason for that is once you combine the power of story and the impact of visuals, you basically created a Trojan Horse that can really break through a lot of walls. Why? Because we’re all wired to process. As you know, that stat has been going on 60,000 times to repeat it. So there's a lot of reason why we are more receptive to visual information.
Two, we know that people prefer to consume information that's packages, stories versus stats and facts. So that's why I like to use the term visual storytelling versus brand storytelling because brands to storytelling, although it just pushed it towards the marketing context, but it misses the visual power. I think the visual power here is really important because brand storytelling, you could write a blog post and tell a story there. It's not make it powerful as a visual.
[00:17:22] LP: When you say visual, as opposed to just brand storytelling, you're talking about most likely imagery, and it might be human, or nature or things like that, maybe video. But you also spoke about data. So specific to this group, how can brands and anyone who's trying to present a story leverage their data but in a way that inspires the emotion that is necessary to compel someone to become part of that story because there's this sort of limiting belief that data is inherently boring and is unable to elicit emotion from an audience, which is what you need to compel them to take action. So I'd love to hear your thoughts on that.
[00:18:08] SR: Yeah. Before – Let’s say I'm an analyst in a large corporation and I need to prepare for a big presentation, I think the first step that I would do is definitely to kind of research my audience and really get a sense of what they're looking for because, obviously, that's going to dictate the direction of the presentation. Try to get a sense of the little stories, the pain points, the things they tried to solve, who were the characters in this journey that they went through. The idea is really to once you get a sense of what is the big message that is trying to communicate, what is the core problem that they're trying to solve, how the solution looks like, who were the characters, what are the stakes if they're not solving the problem, and really providing some color to even what I call – You'll be surprised, but that's another term from a filmmaking, the AB roll details, which is really small details that can tell a lot. You'll see this in films where the camera is pointing to – It could be like a static landscape or focusing close up on an object for no other reason, just to kind of paint a picture of the space. You could use details like that, meaningful details to paint a picture in your presentation. Pick the right visual graphs.
I would say also, before even that, just think about the metaphor. What is the visual metaphor you want to use to communicate your presentation? For example, when I do my presentation, I shape my slides as a gallery tour. So every slide, it's almost like a room that you can actually move from room to room. I tend to use a lot of the framed visuals, so it's like artwork in a way. That’s one way you could make sense to your context. Another example is another client of ours is Cable & Wireless. It’s a telecom player here in Miami that works in the Caribbean and asked us to help them communicate the business strategy in a private event to the leadership. So since they operate in the Caribbean, and we actually create a visual metaphor of positioning the CEO as the captain of cruise ship, and he's hopping from island to island, and every Island is actually encountering challenges, and how we intend to solve it in the next year.
We actually interviewed five division heads to get their pain points. Since I work with a production studio in Colombia and they're so talented, so they basically illustrated by hand the entire visuals. Not only that, they created characters that looked like the presenters, like those head of division of marketing or software. So they've created another emotional affinity because the audience could recognize the characters on stage and also on screen.
[00:21:07] LP: Wow. That's amazing.
[00:21:10] SR: Yeah. I would say definitely and the last part that's important really is when you present numbers, really provide the backstory behind them, what makes them meaningful and why you present them because data you can shape in a variety of ways to achieve different goals. It's important that you provide the right stories behind the numbers.
[00:21:34] LP: This is a – There were so many points there, oh, my gosh, especially when you talk about visual metaphors, especially around data. Like you said, you dropped a few facts that feel like they're pretty common knowledge. But I don't even know that everyone knows how much more compelling it is when you're accompanying information with a visual, like an image or a really well-done graph versus text and bullet points. Alone, that it is many orders of magnitude higher in terms of their effect and the recall that they have on that information. So that's why I'm so glad that you're driving home the point around visuals.
But I love how you just describe this metaphor that was used because one of the challenges this audience faces is they have to present very complex details, concepts, analyses to a C-level or more lay audience that does not have the same grasp of the mechanics of that data, but they still want to understand what does it mean, can it take action. So I absolutely love that metaphor because, A, it related to something in the real world that they could understand. But it also brought it home to them, to their own story. Do you have other examples of metaphors like this that you've used?
[00:22:58] SR: Yeah. This is something that I've done for VSI myself. Another great tip for anyone that want to get inspired by creating a new visual metaphor is really expose yourself to multiple sources of information. This could be even, like in my story, one night, I’d watch The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.
[00:23:16] LP: The Daily Show. I love that show.
[00:23:18] SR: Yeah. So I interviewed Jason McConaughey about his new book, and he talks about the challenges he had as an actor, and he called them red lights that stopped him. The name of the book is Green Lights, by the way. He figured out that anytime you run into a conflict, you either stop not doing anything or you are sticking to your strategy or you pivot. So that gave me an idea to a whole blog post that I wrote about it and even some infographic around. So that was one example.
Another example, I read an article about this rural train in Canada that goes in around different villages in indigenous people. The visuals were really spectacular. So it made me realize that when we talk about the buyer’s journey, it's really nothing but like a train that every stop is basically another stop in the journey. So I created an Instagram Live program. It's called the Brand Storytelling Train. Check it out on my IGTV section on Instagram. What I talk there is really how can you tell different types of stories at each stage of the buyer’s journey, so different stories at the awareness stage, different stories at the consideration, and so on. It was a great way to communicate.
Also, part of the communication piece, I actually used some visuals from Trainspeak. So I would create like a training schedule with the live’s time that I'm going to start the talk. Typically, it was 202, like a train hour.
[00:25:04] LP: The training schedule. I get it. I get it.
[00:25:09] SR: Really, the entire communication message was using like a train scheduling announcements and the whole thing around train context. It was a lot of fun.
[00:25:19] LP: Yeah, for sure.
[00:25:21] SR: I was able to generate even a nice infographic that really created the entire track of this Brand Storytelling Train.
[00:25:31] LP: It's so amazing. I have this aspiration to – I'm working on it. I promise, guys. That I want to collect like a library of metaphors and analogies that people have used to create some sort of relatable context around their ideas, not only to make them more understandable. But like you said, to inject a little bit of fun. It's so hard to imagine fun while you're delivering data in a corporate meeting. But fun is something that keeps our attention. There's no question about that. I think that's so clever.
There was a presentation I saw a very long time ago, just when my speaking career was starting, by someone named in our field name, Eric Peterson, if I recall. I've seen a lot of talks since then but I remember this talk because it was something like 10 ways managing an analytics team, or building an analytics team is like basketball. It was so clear the connections that he made in that specific example. I remember it and I'm pretty sure that was almost 10 years ago.
[00:26:40] SR: There you go. You remember stuff that really sticks to you and speaks to you. I mean, just to extend the fun element you just mentioned, I think my entire philosophy is really you want to create content that doesn't feel like ads but more as entertainment. That's where I'm coming from. The reason for that, the logic is really when you communicate something that looks like fun, as you said, or entertainment, like in a video format, it could be like a short film, your audience guards are coming down because they don't feel they've been sold to. So they are much more open to process your information and really believe what you're saying. That's the philosophy I'm using right now.
If you look at the marketplace, you'll see that there's a whole new movement right now that market is actually moving from the classic 32nd commercial or just banners to more kind of a brand documentaries, for example, that are commissioned by major brands like Johnson and Johnson, Schwab, or Patagonia. They’re all commissioning brand documentaries and actually placing the role of producers in a way. So their role is to create awareness to the film product, where the messages – They basically gave the filmmaker general ideas of what they're looking to have in terms of messaging, but the creative freedom is really up to the filmmaker.
[00:28:12] LP: This is making a lot of sense. I remember one of the – I think similar to this, one of those efforts that has never left my memory was when Dove did – I think it was called the Real Beauty Campaign.
[00:28:26] SR: Yup, Sketches. I use it all the time.
[00:28:28] LP: The Sketches. Oh, my god. If you have not seen that yet out there, I'll put that link for sure. You must watch that. It was so memorable. While I'm not necessarily a Dove customer, for certain reasons, I will never forget that that company put that effort and made that connection around beauty for people. Of course, it was a beauty company but talking about how it goes beyond being skin deep.
[00:28:56] SR: Yeah. I use it in all my training. Basically, the interesting part here, which is also nicely connected to what we talked about how to prepare for a presentation is Ogilvy Toronto that created this ad actually did a very comprehensive focus group effort before they actually created this ad. What they found is that 98% of women that they surveyed thought that they look not as beautiful as they want to. Only two percent believe they look great. So with this tidbit, they basically created this story with a big idea that you look much – You’re beautiful than you think you are. That’s the beauty of this.
Again, if they didn't have this intelligence, it wouldn't speak to a lot of their target audience. Because people could see themselves mirrored in that story, yeah, that's how I feel, when you look at the first part of that video, where they described themselves very negatively in the sketch. So you could see that the mirroring effect in action pretty much.
[00:30:05] LP: What's amazing is you dropped a pretty staggering statistic along with that. Only two percent of women surveyed felt they were beautiful enough. But combine that with the visceral power of watching these women critique themselves and then view how others were viewing them, that I think is the sweet spot of what you're talking about. It's that perfect mix of visual story and also information, right?
[00:30:32] SR: Yeah. Also, it's a great demonstration of what I call showing versus telling because you actually experience the big message as it's rolling out in the story. They didn't tell you on bullet points or talking ahead. You actually experience it through the plot.
[00:30:50] LP: Right. So one of the things I noticed you talk about is story versus narrative. Now, I might be accidentally using these interchangeably, so forgive me. But I would love to know, how are you making that distinction?
[00:31:06] SR: Yeah.
[00:31:08] LP: We interrupt this interview content for a brief message brought to you by me. There's never been a more important time for presenting data accurately, confidently, and impactfully to your stakeholders and clients. If you're a leader or agency owner whose team is responsible for driving database decisions and keeping satisfied clients, and if you've tried other data storytelling instructors in the past who just missed the mark, I get it. With over seven years of experience training data and digital practitioners in the unique art and science of presenting data, who knows the unique challenges of this field having been at it myself for 12 years, I'm ready to help. I offer both live virtual and online course offerings, with ongoing learning support options that suit your organization's specific needs. Visit leapica.com/workshops to schedule your strategy session with me, and we'll get started on your custom training solution today. That's leapica.com/workshops.
[00:32:15] SR: I can give you like the very basic example. If you think about the American dream, what is the American dream? If you work hard, you can be successful, right? So that's the narrative statement, right? It's a wishful thinking, a position, a belief towards the future. Anybody can pick up on it. The story is if you take the success story of Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, these are all stories that serve as proof points to this narrative. They actually validate the American dream statement, right?
The difference is really stories are placed in the past. They are using the setting conflict resolution, and they're really supporting and validating the overarching narrative. The narrative is really what is your promise, what is your brand promise, why people should care. I call it the big why, and it's really important to know your big why because that's going to work almost like a compass to really direct all your stories that you're going to tell from that point forward.
Another metaphor that's been out there is – Michael Margolis has used it a lot, if you know him. He uses the visual of a necklace. So every bead on the necklace is a story, but the necklace itself is an artist.
[00:33:43] LP: Wow. That is an amazing way to help us understand that comparison.
[00:33:50] SR: Yeah. Another way that I use also is connect the dots. So every dot is a story.
[00:33:54] LP: Like a constellation.
[00:33:58] SR: The visual that you come up with at the end is really the narrative. Once you recognize this is a lion okay, now understand.
[00:34:05] LP: Right. So like a constellation could be another example of separate dots that connect to create a picture.
[00:34:10] SR: Right, exactly.
[00:34:13] LP: I’m loving this so much. So aside from what you've worked on, have you seen an example of how a brand or a company or even person has told a story, has leveraged visual storytelling in a way that made you go, “Wow, they nailed it.”?
[00:34:29] SR: Right. Well, other than, you just told, my show with the Dove Sketches, I would typically drop it. But, yeah, there is another one that a couple years ago, if you remember the – It’s called the Sandy Hook Promise. It was really parents of victims of the 2012 mass shooting in Connecticut. So they created a story that is extremely powerful. The big message was really pay attention to early signs of gun violence. Instead of just going with a very boring story, they used a story structure that is extremely powerful. It's called full start.
[00:35:09] LP: Okay, the full start.
[00:35:11] SR: Full start.
[00:35:11] LP: Full start. Okay.
[00:35:12] SR: What it means is really you start telling a story and let your audience believe you're going to point A. But at the end, you actually do a surprising twist, and that's where your big message is actually.
[00:35:26] LP: Okay. I see.
[00:35:29] SR: In this, if you look it out, it’s called Evan, and look up Sandy Hook Promise. That's the nonprofit organization that’s behind it. It’s really started as a really innocent romantic story between two students in high school leaving romantic messages on the return on the table in the classroom. All along, it’s the same footage. The twist comes where the video change and say, “Did you notice that there was a guy sitting and looking at journals with the different guns on the side?” So the guy that was really planning the shooting was always in the background, but he completely missed it. It's like a magician that trained the eye to look somewhere else. So this storyline works like, first, you see this innocent story between the boy and girl.
Then there is the event, the conflict, where the guy actually storms into a classroom and starts shooting. Then they just do kind of a rewind and ask you, “Did you notice all these details.” He was always there. The guy was always there. It’s the same footage. They didn't change anything. Again, it's so powerful. It’s, again, a great demonstration of the principle of showing versus telling because you actually feel bad yourself that you didn't see all these details.
[00:36:52] LP: You empathize. Wow. That is very powerful. I'll definitely have to look that up. So when you look at what's happening, I mean, you're probably on the cutting edge of trends. The online environment for storytelling is changing so rapidly, especially with this particular year and how data fits into that. So what has you really excited about the future of storytelling? Have you seen examples that just really you’re like, “This is where everything is going. This is what is exciting.”?
[00:37:26] SR: Yeah. I mean, there's a lot of trends that I'm paying attention to. I think one of the most important one right now is definitely, since we’re all kind of struggling with even understanding what constitutes a true story versus a fake story. That’s a whole Pandora box that we need to figure out. It’s not just the education but it's also the structure of how our major platforms are structured. We are all kind of locked in echo chambers. The algorithms continue feeding us, people that look like us. So that's just going to have a lot of impact on how we tell stories and how can we break the mold and really bring new audiences that not necessarily our typical audience but just to kind of – For the sake of exposing ourselves to other ideas because I think there's a tendency to stick. It’s our comfort zone to stick to what we know.
I think there's a great promise and I think the future is going to be emergence of new distribution platforms that are going to break the social network classic mold. If you look at – Now, even I saw Excel has stories. How crazy is that? So it's like everybody is –
[00:38:57] LP: Excel?
[00:38:59] SR: Yeah. I mean, it's insane. I just saw this the other day. So it just gives you an idea that all these platforms are really running out of ideas. They’re just copycatting each other. If it was starting with Snapchat, then Instagram, then Facebook, then LinkedIn, and now just productivity tools. So I think we need to refresh on thinking about how can you create communities of shared ideas but in a way that’s more pluralistic, that gives more voices. Also, at the same time, give people some ways to validate what seems to be true and what seems to be questionable.
Right now, we are operating in a Wild West situation where, thanks to Section 230, that gives the major networks no responsibility to whatever content you put on the sites. That's a problem, so I think there's going to be some regulation aspects that's going to fix that. But my hope is that we're going to emerge from this 20-year of social networks and move to something different that it's less reliant on the hunger of advertising to create algorithms that maximize engagement by just giving you more of the same thing or even over time to more extreme ends.
[00:40:30] LP: What you're saying right now is of utmost importance, and it definitely spans beyond the realm of presenting data well in meetings. I had the experience of watching The Social Dilemma this summer at the height of the election hubbub and fake news and everything. While I'm not beyond the idea that there are people out there with nefarious intentions that do things, and curiosity and wonder is a good quality to have, what I had no idea was that, essentially, advertising objectives and profitability had filtered into the confirming of biases, like where is the seed would be planted by one piece of content. That if you acknowledge that positively in any way, that you could be sent down a total rabbit hole of more information that would just continue to confirm and feed that bias, without any understanding of its validity or truth.
I think that is so important. So for me, even as I present information now, I used to just share an article on social media or present data in a meeting that I felt comfortable with. I was like, “This feels true.” But now, I'm so careful that I check. If I'm sharing something online, I go to a site called Media Bias/Fact Check and I check to see which direction they lean, left or right, center. Then what is the degree of accuracy in their reporting? I have my own political leanings but I really do try to have at least a high level of factual reporting rating. Then I cite that source, so people can decide for themselves if this feels like something credible because it's been a thing where incredibly intelligent people will find the first thing that confirms a bias and say, “See, see.”
I know this is done in data in meetings as well, where we might have a landing page test, and we’re like, “See, I knew. I knew it didn't work.” I've done that and then I realized there might have been a glitch in my tracking, or I didn't look at the full picture and thought, “Oh, shoot.” If I had some advice, it would be when you're looking at information online and sharing, look at different sources, see what the other side of the wall is saying, keep your options open, don't get pigeonholed into your own social rabbit hole and same thing with data. I would think it goes into building trust with an audience, right? What do you think about that?
[00:43:19] SR: Absolutely. Yeah. Trust is definitely the most important thing. What a lot of people don't know, before you can build trust when you are looking to create a powerful presentation, the first, the most important real estate to your presentation is the first couple of minutes. Why is that? Because people as you know process information through three channels. The first one is the visual, and that's really what you have up on screen and also your appearance. These are all selling channels. They read. They see stuff, your outfit, your backdrop behind you. Every detail that you include there carry a meaning. They actually trigger a meaning to them. So that's the visual level. But then there's the story, the message. What are you actually telling them? That's also an important part of the storytelling that we talked about.
The last part is really the delivery, how we actually deliver it. If it's in a written format, the language you used. If it's a voice, so what is your tone or voice of communicating? Are you passionate? Are you exactly all that? So going back to the real estate, which is our first few minutes, typically, people that don't know you, they're strangers, they're going to process information, first, through the emotional brain. Only after they find something really resonating in their personal story because we are meaning seekers. We constantly try to process. It’s from our early days in the cavemen survival mechanism to really process meaning. Is it good, neutral, or bad for me?
I'm going to initially try to find counterparts in my personal story. Typically, those counterparts are really sitting on those details, sitting on certain emotions because we remember stuff that really moved us emotionally. So if you can trigger those emotions in your first couple of minutes of your presentation through a short story or whatever, in direction you choose, first, you break the ice with the audience. You immediately create a chemistry. They already love what you are telling them, and that goes back to your comment about creating empathy through the process and building trust. Once they can trust you, maybe you also presented your credentials. They know who you are, that you've done your job. That ties basically to that reptilian brain that is a survival mechanism that, “Oh, he cares about – Can I trust the presenter?”
Once you covered the emotional brain and the reptilian brain, the trust issue, then only the end, the logical brain comes into play. Now, they're ready to really process your actual, the meat of your presentation, those logical features, findings that you have, things that go down to the technical part. But you first need to catch their attention by capturing the emotion, and that's really the trick with any visual information that you want to communicate to audiences because people are really motivated by their emotion first.
[00:46:53] LP: That is such a good point. Oftentimes, we will say, “Well, we want to be dispassionate. We want to make decisions in a data-driven capacity.” But the reason why I've changed that in my lingo to be story-driven is because it's the stories that will eventually convince people because, as you said, people act from an emotional place. So maybe what someone can do is tell a story that could be a customer, and paint a picture of that journey. Create empathy for them. Then step back to show just how many people or percentage of customers are being affected by this, and show this is a big problem. This is impacting our top customers, things like that. Then there's a good balance between just making it emotional but also backing it up.
[00:47:41] SR: Yeah. No, definitely. This goes back to what we talked about before, the importance of meaning and finding what are these meanings to your audience and doing this discovery research because I use a lot of, in my class, the science of visual semiotics. It's really about the basic truth that every object around us, it could be sound, a physical object, carry two meanings. One is the objective meaning. For example, I can see that on your left side or on your right side, there is a door. I can see there’s a door. That's the objective meaning of that object, right? But it also carries a subjective meaning. I could say this door I've seen in my last vacation, that in breakfast I had such great memories. Again, I'm bringing up my emotions.
Your job as a presenter or a data storyteller is really to investigate your target audience, understanding what are the subjective meanings they associate with your problem and the story that you're trying to help them solve their problem. So when you actually present, you actually engage in exercise of mirroring back this subjective meanings through storytelling, through graphs, through charts, through stories behind the numbers. So when they hear it again, you want to achieve that transfer when your story becomes their story.
[00:49:06] LP: Oh, my gosh. That is so powerful. One of the things I teach in my courses and workshops around how to integrate narrative arc into the structure of a presentation is to find their objections. This is what you're talking about. It's locating those subjective meanings and biases that people are bringing to the table. How are you going to address them when your data might inevitably contradict them, right? That is fantastic.
[00:49:37] SR: This is their echo chambers that you need to get a glimpse into.
[00:49:37] LP: Okay. So as we are closing in on the conclusion here, we have come to a segment called the upgrade. The upgrade is a tool, a resource, a book, something that you have found in your journey that you love, makes your work easier, that you think that the listeners might find really interesting.
[00:50:12] SR: Yeah. I can tell you that I can spend – This is actually a great tool I'm using. I call it story library. It's a Google Sheet that I created, where just every day, I write an idea that I have that could come into fruition in a blog post, ideally for a podcast. So this exercise really got me thinking about great ideas for infographics, and you can see a lot of them actually on my Instagram. The tool that I'm using the most is Canva, and Canva is very easy. It's really plug and play but that was – I would call this my first stage in transforming my ideas to visual. The challenge is that sometimes their clipart is really limited to the idea that you have.
As of recently, I started kind of experimenting with the Adobe Sketch, and this is another like illustrator or – I don’t have any artistic background, other than just communicating basic ideas that doesn't have any clipart limitation, I call it. I can create anything that I want, even though it's on a basic visual communication level. But it gives me a lot of freedom to play around and write kind of words in my own handwriting and kind of personalize the message this way. So I've done several of those recently. Again, it's a lot of fun because it allows you to really communicate a big message in plain. It's like going back to the cavemen.
[00:51:55] LP: Right, the pictographs.
[00:51:59] SR: So that's what I did. I tried to experiment with it lately.
[00:52:02] LP: That is so interesting. I'm a huge fan of Canva but I'll definitely – You'll have to send me the link to your story library, and I'll check out Adobe Sketch. I think that's a fantastic idea of writing down. I love relating things to mythology. I'm a mythology buff. So I find that so many of those stories can relate to concepts that we have nowadays, and it's a great idea to just – If something pops up, just write it down and see if it can be used.
All right, so this is our final question. Think very hard here and imagine this very plausible scenario. You're walking into a 30-year anniversary showing of Cinema Paradiso, one of my all-time favorites, by the way, while eating a home-baked baguette, when you suddenly trip and fall into a vortex that pulls you back to the moment you're about to deliver your first presentation. Do you remember what you're presenting about and what advice would you give to yesterday you?
[00:53:04] SR: Yeah. So I actually – My first experience presenting a live was while I was living in San Diego, and I started joining Toastmasters because I had no experience in presenting. It’s a funny story. I mean, one of the comments that kept coming back is that when I present, I tend to dance around very [inaudible 00:53:28]. That’s really – It's like dancing game, body movement, so I think to kind of cool it down.
[00:53:37] LP: I would be like, “No, keep going.” That was back then. But today, I think practicing before, it's really important, just to get the most important points because the way people process information is really going through what they see, what they hear, and what they read. You have three channels where people consume information. So you need to pay attention to those three channels and really practice them because if you stay too long on a slide, people get bored. If you have too many things you try to put into one slide, it's going to crash. The basic idea is that people processing power is really working on 20% battery on the iPhone.
[00:54:35] LP: That's also a great metaphor. So plan on that, that you almost ran out of juice.
[00:54:43] LP: I see.
[00:54:44] SR: On the audience perspective, that is.
[00:54:46] LP: No. That's a really good perspective. I don't think people appreciate in general how little processing power an audience has made available in a particular moment. Especially with phones and laptops nearby and smart watches, it is a big job to try to capture people's attention. We're not gathering them around to fire pit anymore, so I think that's really good advice. How can you really capture them? What are the ways you can engage them? I agree. Stories are the way to do it.
[00:55:20] SR: Yeah. Even sometimes, I actually think it was – Back in San Diego, I was also the President of the High Tech Marketing Alliance, this Market Association there. One of the presenters I invited, he used actually props, those balls. Every time he communicated a point, he would throw a ball to somebody and create like a physical exchange. So that's another way to think about how not to put your audience to sleep but by actually engaging them physically.
[00:55:48] LP: I see. That's fantastic. Combine movement with mental. I'll have to experiment with that too.
[00:55:54] SR: Yeah, asking a question. Anybody that answer it correctly, you throw the ball.
[00:55:58] LP: Get the ball. Yeah. I love that, and there's a little reward system too for paying attention. Well, Shlomi, this – Unfortunately, our time has run out. I feel like we could definitely talk at length. So tell the listeners where they can keep up with you.
[00:56:13] SR: Yeah. So you can find me on LinkedIn. I'll be more than happy to connect, Shlomi Ron. I'm also on Twitter. I'm not so much on Facebook. I'm trying to kind of cut down quite the past week.
[00:56:25] LP: I don’t think most people here.
[00:56:29] SR: But, yeah, also check out my podcast, Visual Storytelling Today, on all the podcast networks. It's also on YouTube, so it's also recording on video. Other than that, my book is Total Acuity.
[00:56:43] LP: Yeah. Tell us about that.
[00:56:44] SR: Yeah. The reason I picked acuity is it's really the ability to perceive details. We talked a lot of details [inaudible 00:56:55] the subjective and objective meanings, why they are so important because they're really triggers of you start with details, emotions, meaning, and then action. So if you pick the right meaningful details, you're going to get behavior change at the end of the road. I actually wrote this book that was a little bit of break for me, the typical business, say, format. I use this short collection of personal stories that happened to me, and each one has a moral that has to do with visual storytelling, also supported by in photos with the visual principles. So you'll see a lot of the visuals along the book.
The other part of it, which is also interesting, is that the cover design. I actually found the designer on Instagram of all places. The theme was really, if you know about illuminated scripts, in medieval manuscripts, that tradition of design. It’s really colorful and very elaborate. Again, it's very elaborate in details. So we created this cover, and it looks like illuminated scripts, a medieval style with a lot of details that combine both elements from the past and also technology elements from the present. So it has a nice interplay that I use there as well to build this visual experience. It’s a lot of fun creating it and it's available on Amazon for anyone interested.
[00:58:26] LP: That sounds perfect for you. It almost sounds like a parable format, where you're leveraging story to tell how to tell stories with visuals, with all these different ways of combining visuals. I'll definitely have to pick that up. That sounds like a wonderful read. I'll make sure that all of the links we mentioned – Wow. I don't think I've ever had this many resources dropped in one show, but they'll all be on the show notes page for this episode. So I just want to say thank you so much for taking the time to be on the show. We found so much common ground here with how your work can help people understand how story influences perception and action and emotion. I truly hope our paths cross again soon.
[00:59:09] SR: Yeah. Let's do it again. Wonderful. All right, thank you so much for having me.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:59:22] LP: All right, lovely listener. I truly hoped you enjoyed that insightful conversation. I know I did. To catch all of the links, to register for different events, and check out the resources mentioned in the episode, please visit the show notes page at leapica.com/067. Love to hear from you. Drop an email. Leave a comment because I want to hear about the challenges you're facing, the kinds of folks you want to hear from, the big questions that you have.
If you like what you've heard, please, if you are on your iPhone right now and you're in the podcast app, just hit that subscribe button to make sure you never miss an episode, and please leave a rating and review. They are so, so appreciated and they really help me understand that I'm doing something great that is helping you. If you're on Spotify, hit that follow button on the podcast as well, and you'll never miss an episode.
I'll leave you with today's presentation inspiration by Ira Glass, and that is, “Great stories happen to people who can tell them.” I could not have said it better myself. When you learn to master the art and science of storytelling, especially for business, magic happens for your organization, your clients, your customers, and you, you, you, you, you. Not to be dramatic, but it's true. Luckily, you are in the exact right place to do that right here.
Don’t forget to claim your spot in my three keys data presentation webinar next Thursday, July 15th, at 2:00 PM, Eastern. You can go there at leapica.com/3keys, the number 3. I promise you, you will walk away with at least one more tool than you had before that will make you and your insights shine with your stakeholders and clients. That's it for today. Stay well, stay safe, and namaste.