A long time ago, in a cubicle far, far away…

Your phone rings. It’s one of your top executives, and she asks you to present an update of “numbers about mobile” on your website during a leadership meeting. Gulp. So you’ve worked around the clock and sifted through mountains of clickstream, CRM and other sorts of data and distilled it into shiny new insights…

It’s now presentation day, and while you are showering your executive team with your nuggets of wisdom, you take a look around the room and suddenly notice something…disturbing.

Lea Pica - Who Am I - Bored Zombie AudienceYou don’t have your audience’s undivided attention. Glazed eyeballs, a little drool, maybe some Candy Crush Saga? It’s not pretty. By the end of the meeting, you’re not exactly sure that your data had the impact you were hoping for.  And after days or weeks of no follow-up, you start to worry that all your hard work has disappeared into what I call the dreaded data black hole.

Fear not, dear reader. This blog is here to shed some light on why this can happen, and help you prevent it. My name is Lea Pica, and I’m here to help you present your results to get results in your organization. But first, an origin story (as a closet Marvel Comics nerd, I’m entitled):

I ungracefully took the stage for the first time at the tender age of 3, performing for my anxious and excitable parents in a ballet recital. Despite severe stage fright, I was completely bitten by the musical theatre bug and continued to perform in plays, musicals and opera (yikes) through high school. I was voted “Most Likely To Be A Thespian” (that did wonders for my high school street cred) and was confident I was destined for a life of stardom.

The caliber of college theatre, however, was like an Arctic Char smack to the face; these people were GOOD. And COMMITTED. When I realized that my talent and resolve to go professional paled in comparison to my classmates, I decided to hang up my jazz shoes and pursue an inevitable career in digital marketing. A much more stable and lucrative venture, and yet I wistfully longed for the stage.

Until I realized I could still “perform”…during my work presentations. And the more head-down, true grit, Bob Fosse-focus I brought from the theatre to the conference room, the more rewarding the response. But after arriving at the great halls of an illustrious financial institution seven years ago to manage their ad agency web analytics, I still wasn’t making the difference I was hoping for.

With my readout slides packed with exciting embellishments like frenzied transitions and kaleidoscopic pie charts, I simply didn’t understand why my executives weren’t tossing roses at my feet.

Lea Pica - Who Am I - Site Search Data NerdThen one day, it all changed. I came across some really exciting site search data and wanted to get it noticed by my bosses. (And yes, when you’re a digital analyst, exciting site search data is a thing.)

Now, agencies looooove meetings. Like, 9-hours-of-meetings-a-day kind of love. I was subjected to more mind-numbing underwhelming presentations than I care to remember. Having the attention span of a Shubunkin goldfish (yup, I said Shubunkin), I’m a particularly challenging audience member to keep entertained.

I thought to myself: how would I keep me engaged? These site search insights were really important to me, but I’d be damned if I would watch my executives turn into extras from the Walking Dead. There had to be a better way. So I went on a 3-year philosophical journey to find answers to this deep, metaphysical question:

Lea Pica - Who Am I - Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good Data?

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good Data?

I sought to answer this question through tireless self-study of the presentation philosophies of Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte. I voraciously consumed data visualization best practices by Edward Tufte and Stephen Few. I learned principles of human psychology as they relate to attention and recall. And I would discover several answers to my question, but the simplest one I found is that most analytics presentations fail to achieve two goals:

  1. To maintain their audience’s attention, and
  2. To be memorable enough for the audience to act.

Some of the simple changes I made using my new tool belt allowed my site search results to make an unprecedented impact. A defunct site search optimization project was reactivated. Budget was allocated towards creating more robust analytics capabilities. Site search performance improved. Change happened. What did this teach me? There are some really simple and effective ways to make a presentation of data really stand out, but most people just don’t know about them. And then…a new opportunity arose.

A Conference Room Crusade Is Born

I had the privilege of attending eMetrics and other digital analytics conferences, but I noticed a trend; everyone was talking about the practice of web analytics but no one was talking about the mistakes we make when presenting to our stakeholders. My mission became clear: I wanted to share this journey with others in the digital analytics field and get the heck back on stage. I applied for every conference speaker call I could find, but the phone remained silent.

Then, I was given the opportunity to present about a topic of my choosing at the ForeSee Client Summit. This was my big chance. I poured hundreds of hours of planning, preparation and designing. I called it “Get Their Attention“. And a moment before stepping on stage, I panicked. I was about to ruffle some important feathers with my nonconformist approach. I was terrified.

And…the audience loved it. I was overwhelmed by the response, the attendees rapid-firing questions at me about data and presentation prep, design and delivery. Then the session received a tweet that would change everything:

Yup, that tweet was directed at the Tim Wilson of Web Analytics Demystified. Connecting with Tim was a huge leap forward; known in our industry as Grumpy Cat of Analytics and author of essential blog Gilligan on Data, Tim is a huge advocate for thoughtfully presented information for maximum impact. I was graciously invited to spread the pre-zen-tation gospel at Web Analytics Demystified’s ACCELERATE conference later that year, and once again I found an audience very receptive to my unorthodox ideas. I. was. HOOKED.

I’ve now delivered “Get Their Attention” to four conferences and am slated for an encore appearance at eMetrics San Francisco, March 2015. But while these opportunities have meant the world to me, there’s only so much I can offer the audience with a brief 30 minutes of stage time. I decided it was time to chronicle my continuous journey to analytics & presentation enlightenment on the glorious interwebs.

And Here We Are…

My goal is that by following my journey, you will receive a fresh infusion of tools, tips and techniques that will help your insights and story stand out by achieving our two presentation goals. Think of this blog as an invitation to climb in the old jalopy for a dusty, bumpy roadtrip which promises some exciting (albeit unconventional) ideas, practical tips and hopefully a chuckle or two along the way. After following some of these practices, you may experience some pleasant side effects such as…

  1. Taming the dreaded HiPPO (or highest paid person’s opinion, nemesis of analytics guru Avinash Kaushik)
  2. Building influence for your analytics practice, and
  3. Inspiring action from your stakeholders, which is really what this game is all about, right??

Lea Pica - Who Am I - Tame the HiPPOIf you’re tired of pie charts that make your eyes glaze over like a Dunkin’ apple cider donut, this is the place for you. If you’ve wished for a hot poker in the eye during a narcolepsy-inducing presentation, you have found your tribe. If, however, you enjoy cramming your PowerPoint slides with bullet points and aren’t bothered by hearing crickets during your speech, this is DEFINITELY the place for you.

Let me be your Slide Sherpa. Your Viz Vizier. 

Because I’m about to drop some pie-slinging, clipart-kicking tough love on this town so that you can be the best damn data presenter in your organization.

A Humble Disclosure

So, I’m not saying I’m the best, nor that I have all the answers. I will never make bold claims to be the next Guy Kawasaki or Gary Vaynerchuk. These people are gods of the stage. And I can’t promise you’ll agree with my approach or philosophy. But I can tell you one thing with total confidence based on the feedback I’ve received: the process I’ve put into practice worksAnd it doesn’t require a Tony Award, a PhD in mathematics or a Masters in Graphic Design (although they certainly don’t hurt). Here’s the proof:

Now one thing I’ve learned in this process is that, much like life, data visualization and presentation enlightenment is a journey, not a destination. It will take a lot of study, determination and hard work, which is something we don’t always invest in our charts and slides. When asked to deliver “Get Their Attention” a year after its first run, I realized how it desperately needed a face lift and content refresh.

And, although I was confident it went well, I still received critical feedback that humbled me and inspired me to make it that much better the next time around. Because a great presentation is like a well-crafted landing page: continually optimized and improved (you would know a little something about that, yes?)

Remember, only you can prevent presentation narcolepsy and data disasters. Let’s work together to banish them from our conference rooms and empower our hard work to get noticed. Who’s with me??

Are you ready to up your presentation A-Game? Let me hear it!

Photo credits: StaticFlickr.com, Imgflip.com, Office.com

Lea is a digital analyst and marketer turned Data Storytelling Advocate. She trains thousands of digital practitioners and consultants in the art and science of impactful data presentation through live workshops, speaking engagements, online courses, her blog and five-star rated podcast, The Present Beyond Measure Show. Lea is also the creator of The PICA Protocol™, her practical prescription for healthy, actionable data stories that inform decisions, spark ideas, inspire action, and make YOU indispensable.