The Crucial Missing Tools in Your Data Stories with Brent DykesPresent Beyond Measure Ep. 053
Become a Data Storytelling Action Hero with Brent Dykes
With over 15 years of enterprise analytics experience at monster data platforms like Domo, and Adobe (Omniture), Brent Dykes knows a thing or eight about leveraging thoughtfully presented insights to effect organizational change and success.
Brent stopped by the show to discuss his new book, Effective Data Storytelling: How to Drive Change with Data, Narrative and Visuals. It’s one of the most comprehensive reads on the subject I’ve found to date, and dives deepest into the role of narrative arc structure in data presentation (often the most vital, missing ingredient!)
He is a regular Forbes contributor on data-related topics and received the Most Influential Industry Contributor Award from the Digital Analytics Association (DAA). He is a popular speaker at conferences such as Web Summit, Strata, Shop.org, Adtech, Pubcon, and Adobe Summit.
In this episode, Brent imparts practical, real-world wisdom for creating compelling data stories that are practical to apply in your specific business scenarios.
In This Episode, You’ll Learn…
- Who should read his latest data storytelling book and what they’ll be able to do after
- How to use his “data storytelling continuum” to decide which form of communication to use
- How to avoid the communication and ethical pitfalls of common “data forgeries”
- A deep dive into narrative arc structure, a vital missing ingredient from many presentations
- How to use analogies and metaphors to explain complex and technical concepts
- Successful strategies for effecting change in an organization’s data democratization process
- Whether the advent of AI in the data storytelling process will render humans obsolete
People, Blogs, and Resources Mentioned
- Effective Data Storytelling: How to Drive Change with Data, Narrative and Visuals by Brent Dykes
- Web Analytics Action Hero by Brent Dykes
- Brent’s original PowerPoint Ninja blog
- My blog post on slope graphs
How to Keep Up with Brent:
Thanks for Listening!
Thanks so much for joining me. Have some feedback you’d like to share, or a question for Brent? Leave a note in the comments below, and we’ll get back to you!
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A very, very special thank you to Brent for joining me this week.
And as always, viz responsibly, my friends.
[00:00:00] It’s 20:20 Lea Pica here. Today’s guest is one of the analytics industry’s favorite speakers and a data storytelling action hero. Let’s find out who’s kicking off the decade on the present Beyond Measure Show. Episode 53.
[00:00:15] 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 a 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.
[00:00:41] Hello. Hello and welcome to the fifty third episode of the present Beyond Measure Show. It’s the first show of this brand new year and a brand new decade. You know, they say that hindsight is 20/20. And I believe this is the year he’ll leave hindsight in the past. This is the only podcast at the intersection of presentation, data visualization and digital marketing and analytics. So this is the place to be if you’re ready to make maximum impact and create credibility through thoughtfully presented digital insights. I have a fantastic interview to kick things off with. But before we dive in, I wanted to let you know that I’ll be presenting alongside fifteen plus other analytics experts at the Observed Point Virtual Analytics Summit, which airs online on January 15th. It’s an all day presentation bonanza. So hitch a ride with over 5000 other digital marketing and analytics professionals and prepare to be inspired by some of the most visionary minds in the marketing and analytics industry. I’m so honored to be part of the lineup. I’ll be delivering my signature three pillars of data presentation enlightment keynote, which will help you avoid the presentation zombification pandemic so you won’t want to miss this free virtual event. Make sure to visit the link on the show notes page or at least peek dot com slash VHS.
[00:02:18] All right, I’m super stoked to bring my next guest to you, he’s just another incredible author and the amazing lineup of authors I’ve had the privilege of interviewing and he is right in the sweet spot for this show. Let’s get to it.
[00:02:41] How low?
[00:02:42] Today’s guest is the senior director of data strategy at Domo, a data visualization platform used by enterprises all over the world. He has more than 15 years of enterprise analytics experience at Omniture, Adobe and Domo. He’s a regular Forbes contributor on data related topics, and he received the most influential industry contributor award from the Digital Analytics Association in 2016. He’s a very popular speaker at conferences like Web Summit ShopTalk, Strata ADTECH and Adobe Summit, and he’s here today to tell us about his recently published third book, Effective Data Storytelling How to Drive Change with Data, Narrative and Visuals, which was somewhat relevant to the show topics. So I decided to finally get him on here. It only took, what, three years? So please help me welcome Brent Dykes.
[00:03:41] Thanks. Thankfully, it’s great to be here.
[00:03:43] Well, thanks so much for joining. I remember we intersected at Dolma Palooza. I want to say it was 2017.
[00:03:52] Yeah, I think I think it is that year. Yeah. Yeah. Presenting that year. Yes. Data visualization. So.
[00:03:58] That’s right. And it was so great to finally make the connection because I had just heard so much about your talks on data storytelling. So I was so excited to see this book come out. And I’m really so impressed with the volume of information in there. So I you are the first. More analytics industry expert that I’ve had. I’ve had a whole slew of different kinds of data present and presentation authors on. So I’m sure that the listeners would love to hear your origin story. How did you fall into this mystical world of digital?
[00:04:38] Well, I actually started out as a marketer. So if I go back in time, I was actually a marketer. And and then I start working for a web design company, did my MBA, got into ecommerce and then signed on with Omniture. And that’s where I started to get into the data worlds and working at because of my background in marketing. I saw the incredible power of taking data and applying it to, you know, the decisions we’re making as marketers. And so having that background, you know, I was I was at Adobe Slash Omniture for 12 years and then about three and a half years at at at Dormouse, I’ve over this years I’ve worked with lots of large companies. I’ve seen, you know, this industry transform digital marketing and digital analytics and the whole analytics spaces has been great to me. And it if I go back to when I was looking at my degree, so I study marketing, you know, I was debating between accounting and marketing says actually decent with the numbers and everybody would tell me, okay, you’ve got to get an accounting degree because then you’re secure for life. I’m sure once you’ve got that accounting degree and I bucked the trend, I actually said, no, I actually enjoy marketing. I actually enjoy, you know, going down that path. So I went there and then many years later, actually, then the whole field of digital marketing emerged. And then that’s where the oh, my gosh, there’s tons of numbers here. We can analyze the data and it’s based on marketing, not balance sheets and income statements.
[00:06:13] Right. So much more fun. Sorry, accounting people. My brother’s an accountant, so I know it’s a really vital role. Actually have so much respect for roles that I’m terrible at. So how did data storytelling start to fit in to your career as it progressed through these different platforms and roles?
[00:06:37] Yeah. I mean, I actually started back in 2008. I started a blog on PowerPoint Ninja, so yeah. I still have that. I haven’t added articles to it in a while, but that’s where I started to kind of talk about presenting and presenting data. And then just in my role as a consultant over the years and presenting information I found. Wow. This is really important that we communicate her insights effectively. And then in 2013, I think that’s when I first did my first presentation on data storytelling at Adobe Summit. And then from there I’ve presented every year of delivered multiple presentations. And my my ideas and frameworks and concepts have evolved over those years and and now represented in the book that I just published. So it represent this book that I just published represents multiple years of just refining my ideas and looking at what was effective, what wasn’t effective and and just learning from other people in the industry how I could, you know, improve how I present my ideas, my. Sides communicate them more effectively.
[00:07:42] What is what did you find happened when you really started to find that secret sauce for presenting in a way that planted new seeds of thinking and got people excited and you know that.
[00:07:56] Yeah. I mean, one of the things that I got reflective for me because I was like to look back at maybe times when I wasn’t effective, I’d say, oh, my gosh, I completely blew that because I didn’t you know, I did follow some of these concepts that I that I developed over time. And so I was able to look back at times when I wasn’t effective or times when I was effective. And then I could I could kind of diagnose and say, oh, that’s why that worked. That’s why that was effective. And so, yeah, I think it was interesting that way. And I recently saw a Twitter quote by Carl Anderson. If you know him, he wrote a great book on a data driven culture.
[00:08:37] And he said that for him, his ideas don’t really come out until you’ve written them. I found that as I’ve written I’ve written a few books now on this book, just as you write things and put them down or even just as I was preparing presentations, you know, as I was taking the ideas and trying to codify them and standardize them and kind of make them really robust, I found that it was only until I needed to teach other people when I needed to explain to other people what worked to what didn’t work. That’s when it really solidified in my mind these concepts so that both through presentations and through writing, I think those are two good ways of developing my ideas.
[00:09:21] I really like that idea of roughly using it as a reflective process because even as you start to.
[00:09:30] I want to I don’t want to say master, because that’s the idea that we’re mastering anything. Right. But as we really, you know, refine our craft. It’s hindsight is always such a critical piece to look back on every single thing and say, oh, gosh, that didn’t work. And I remember that time. But yeah, the contrast between before, you know, these skills and after you start putting them to use is pretty dramatic.
[00:09:58] So, you know, you’re kind of on the front lines of seeing how practitioners are working with the data and presenting it to their stakeholders. What do you think practitioners and the organizations are struggling with the most in communicating what the data is trying to say to all of us?
[00:10:18] I think one of the big challenges that we have is we have so much data, right? And as we go into the information and we’re analyzing things and we’re finding all of these really neat, interesting insights and facts and data points then becomes a challenge. And I talk about this in the book where you’re you’re going you have to switch from that explosion of exploratory phase. Right. Where you’re analyzing the data, you’re finding interesting things. And then you have to pivot and transition to planetary. And that explanatory, how we approach that is very different than what we’re doing in the exploratory at the explanatory phase. You know, we now have to take the information and conveyed in a way that makes sense to an audience that may not know the data as well as we do. We may also one of the challenges that we have is as if we’ve done the analysis is deciding what goes into the story, what comes out of the story, you know, and we have to almost act like editors. We have to edit ourselves. And that’s hard. That’s hard to do because we might want to show, you know, this is one of the mistakes.
[00:11:23] A lot of a.. Do they want to show they what I call the analysts journey? So first I looked at that, then I looked at this and then I looked over here and then I found this. And honestly, stakeholders and different people in the business, they don’t really care about all the steps you necessarily took to find the insight. What they really want to do is they want to. OK, well, tell us about that insight. And so you have to kind of filter or edit yourself, which can be very challenging. And the other challenge that we sometimes have is not knowing what we know. You know, it’s the curse of knowledge. We have this cursed knowledge where we we have this rich understanding of the topic that we’ve analyzed or researched, store looked at. And then it’s how to examine ourselves and think, OK, what what do what does the marketing team need to know or what does the financial team or whatever? What did they miss or, you know, how much information do I share? And I think one of the big challenges that we have today is making that transition from the exploratory side to the explanatory side.
[00:12:27] That’s a really fascinating way to look at it. That was definitely one of my favorite ways, favorite ways that you explained the whole process in general.
[00:12:37] And it’s true. We want people to know how difficult something was, how it paid.
[00:12:44] I went through how much time it took me and the nights I gave up.
[00:12:50] And, you know, I I I think it’s important to have recognition for that. And it’s also knowing who the right audience is for that. You know, it’s the process of presentation, as always. Audience first. That’s where I’ve seen it succeed. And your boss is a perfect person to let know that something was wrong or a teammate. But and that is the editor part. It’s so hard because a lot of these readouts that I used to give and also see are what I call kitchen sink readouts, where you methodically go through every marketing channel that you have running something running and you just one by one go through. Here’s the latest for this. This is what happened in here. Here it. But it’s not stitched together as one cohesive narrative. So what’s your take on those kinds of presentations where the stakeholder might say, I want to hear. I just want a whole update of everything. Favorite request ever.
[00:13:58] Yeah. I mean, obviously, I think in those cases you’re you’re summarizing the data. So maybe you you start with a summary to kind of get that out of the way and then you say, but this is where the interesting thing is then. Then you start to tell your data story. So it’s hard to combine. You know, one of the I think one of the mistakes we make a data story has one this is one of the principles of my book is that there’s a main point. You should be a main point to your to your data story. If you’re trying to share multiple main points, if you will, then you’ve probably got more than one story, you know. And and often what happens is when we’re trying to share too much, we’re trying to make too many points, then those insights can actually conflict and create noise for each other. And so one of the things we need to go in and we need to decide, okay, what is the main point that we’re trying to make to our audience? And and then how do we obviously have supporting details and and how you communicate that is is really important. But having a summary of all of these different things, you know, that’s that’s not a data story. That’s not how you start a data story. And, you know, maybe the best thing if your boss expects that is to get that out of the way. It’s the end, say. Yeah. And then get into but here’s the interesting thing. You know, after all these channels, there’s really you know, here are some of the trends were saying nothing really jumped out at us. But when we looked at search. And then you launched into the data story.
[00:15:33] And that’s a perfect way to leverage and a real storytelling mechanic of the turn of events where you’re you’re you’re setting that stage like, well, everything looks great except. Right. You know, that has a real impact. I’ve used it and it definitely has a measurable impact on an audience. So I’d actually love to dive into the book, even though we’re starting to get to see the great pieces in it. So who should read this book? What kinds of situations are what kinds of data are they working with? That could benefit.
[00:16:06] Yeah. No. So my bias obviously coming from the digital marketing space.
[00:16:10] You know, it’s I’ve I’m very comfortable with marketing kind of examples, but what I’ve tried to do and then when I came over to Delbar, I was exposed to other forms of data. And so I started to see how this, you know, telling day stories for H.R. people are fine financial analysts or operations people. I mean, we all have data today. So if I was to answer that question, who is this book for? I would say absolutely. It’s definitely for analysts. OK. But then it goes beyond that. I think that every role today has an element of data and that they are responsible for communicating with that data in their respective area, their respective field. And so I don’t feel like this book is just limited to data scientists or analysts. It could be for the marketer, could be for the H.R. professional, could be for the CEO. Could be for whoever has data in it. Really? That’s how I kind of look at it. If you have an insight and you struggle to communicate your insights effectively with others, that’s who this book is for. I’m going to help you more effectively share your insights so that why are we doing this? We’re doing this because we want to drive change.
[00:17:22] Right. You know, that was one of the epiphanies for me as I was preparing to write this book as like the end of the day, why are we telling stories? Well, it’s because we want to share an insight with other people. And we need those people because maybe they approved the budget. Maybe they’re going to help us to fix the issue or seize the opportunity. Maybe they’re on our team with we need to get their buy in to support what we’re doing, whatever it is, we need to influence and help other people to understand what we understand about the data. And and so that’s. And then when we do that, when we introduce an insight, that’s where we’re really driving change. We’re trying to you know, our marketing campaigns need to change our H.R. hiring policies, need to change. This business process is broken. We need to change it. And so if we can communicate that effectively and get to help get the coordination, get the dollars, the resources or whatever we need, then we can drive change. And that was why, for me, a big part of this book is is about influencing, inspiring, motivating change.
[00:18:27] That’s amazing. Yes. Especially because we see a lot of F.Y.I meetings where I just need an update. I just want to know what’s happening and what’s going on. For me, I guess there is a place for those. And my my dream is that all meetings that are this gathering of people where normally there’s some form of entertainment is an actual medium for change. Like you said, or action. I really love that. And something else you said, I really liked about how this is for the marketer, the concept, the CEO even. And I think that there’s something to be said for the ones consuming the data to start learning these kinds of principles as well, because effecting change through the organization for consuming information in a certain way is what I’m finding my students are having. The biggest struggle with is where stakeholders want it. This way they’ll never accept it. This new different way. How can I help them understand that this is better for them? So I’m curious if you’ve had any strategies work for you for effecting change through the way you change effecting change?
[00:19:49] Yeah, I think I think part of what I’ve seen just in my experience is you can meet that criteria. You know, I’ve had people say, no, I just want it a certain way. And you can deliver it that way and you can say, OK, here you go. Here’s the way that you wanted it. But I have a better way. And will you give me the time where you give me 10 minutes? We give me 20 minutes. We give me half an hour or whatever time you need to kind of show them. This is a different way. And then a different way might be telling a data story, you know, and I think because I’ve had people come up to me, well, you know, our executive wants it a certain way. They want the executive summary. They want it a report delivered this way. That way. And I’m not saying that you don’t provide that. I think you can provide that. But but then can you also then say it’s almost like a side by side comparison. Here’s the way you consume content today. OK, we’re checking that box. But here’s a better way. Let me take you down a journey and then I think it becomes clear to people once they see side by side. OK. Yeah, I can see now once I have something to compare it to that maybe the way that we’re doing it previously is not as good. And so I think that’s part of the change management that you can get. I’m not saying to. No, I’m not going to do it that way.
[00:21:05] Got to do it one way. I think you might have to. In the in the initial phase, you might have to do it both ways where you you you do it the way that they expect it. And so you’re delivering the content. And then then you say, but here’s a better way. Here’s I’d like to show you something different that I think you’ll like. And then pick their in their interests and their curiosity and then gauge it. There are going to be some people that are going to shift it, at least initially, you know, and so it’s going to take time. But I think it’s something that if you can show them the better way, and I’m confident, especially when it comes to data storytelling, I think I’ve had people who are skeptical or maybe concerned. Maybe their executives will respond to stories. And I think you need again, to your point, you need to know your audience and you need to be cautious and tailor it to them. But I’m confident because it’s storytelling is built into our DNA. Yes, we respond to stories. And I think if we can tell are if we can share insights in a way that leverages a lot of these principles that come from storytelling that weave over tens of thousands of years, we’ve built up as human beings. We respond to stories. And I don’t care what anybody says, executives are human beings and they do have, you know, the storytelling gene in their DNA. And I think they will respond to it.
[00:22:28] I 100 percent agree. I’d like to tell my students that if you think that your V.P. isn’t going home and binge watching something like Game of Thrones or something like that or reading a bedtime story to their kid and being moved by it, they’re not robots. They’re live human beings. Even though sometimes this environment can make us feel like an us versus them dynamic where there’s this wall between us. And I think story is what breaks that wall down.
[00:23:03] Well, I love the phrases that you use throughout the book to kind of explain various components of this process. So one that caught my attention was potential pitfalls of skipping steps in the process called data forgeries. I had never heard of that. So could you give it could you explain what you mean by that and give us an example?
[00:23:24] Yes. So so data forgeries is an interesting concept that I developed. And it became through observations of where people, I think thought that they were having a data story or they were sharing a data story or they were hearing a data story that they might have been on delivering or the receiving end. But if we look at the foundational pieces of those, it’s going to put air quotes, stories or data stories. They’re actually forgeries. And so I I start with the first one is. Well, let me start with what a data story is, what I believe a data story. So with a data story, you’re going into, the data you’re finding, you’re doing some analysis. You find an insight. And then you explain or communicate that to a specific audience. And you might have to go back to her editing point. You might have to edit that. So it really resonates for that audience. So the first data forgery that I talk about in my book is where. And this is typically what analysts do. They they they follow the right step. They go into the data. They do their analysis. They find an insight. And then this is where it breaks down. It’s on the actual receiving end that they don’t edit their data. They don’t tailor it to their audience.
[00:24:35] They they expect the audience to understand the visualizations that they use in their exploratory phase will equally work well in the explanatory phase. So it’s almost like the director who’s done their filming and just wants to present the information the way that they filmed it. And often what I’ve seen is when I’ve gotten excited about different movies, I’ll say, oh, there’s a director’s cut. Oh, I want to see that because I love that movie. And then I’ll go in and I’ll watch the extra scenes. And I’m like, well, actually, I’m glad that that was edited out. It wasn’t really relevant to the story or it was kind of along. And I think we make the same mistake with as analysts or as communicators over insights where we just share the raw information with an audience. And they don’t they don’t have the understanding of the data and they can’t appreciate it as well. So that’s that’s that’s where I call that one. Is that the data cut? It’s like the director’s cut, right. Another one that I talk about is where and this typically comes more from the business side where they have a story already. They have a narrative. I want to show that our marketing campaign was successful.
[00:25:45] So go find the data that shows that our campaign was successful. And again, I don’t feel like that is a data story because you’re getting your nose, you’re not starting with data, you’re just cherry picking or selectively, either consciously or unconsciously selecting data that supports your narrative that you’ve already you have an agenda that you only want to for it. So again, if you look at the output, it has visualizations. There’s data. Yes, but it’s not for me. It’s not a true data story. And then the last forgery that I talk about and I call sorry to backup, I call that one the data cameo. So again, yeah, it’s it’s sprinkled. And, you know, a lot of times when I think of movies that have cameos, the cameos are not essential to the story.
[00:26:32] They’re just there to cut it at, you know, say and, you know, not really important. And then the last one that I talked about, the last date of forgery is where you’ve seen this a lot of times you’ll look at the output and you’ll say, wow, there’s a lot of really cool visualizations, a lot of interesting charts and different things. And then you start to scratch the surface and you realize that they kind of skip that first phase yet that they went in. They didn’t really find a clear takeaway, clear insight that is really grounds their story. And so I call those data decoration is my favorite. You see that from a lot of people who are very good at the visual side. You know, they’re very good at using whatever visualization tool that they’ve that they have in front of them. But at the end of the day, when you scratch it, there’s there’s really no it’s almost like they want somebody else to find the insight in their data. Right. Right. And I think that’s not telling a data story. You’re creating almost an exploratory tool or experience. It’s not telling a data story. And so each time I presented this concept, I’ve asked people to raise their hands. Which of these. Have you seen your work? And consistently all three rates? It’s because they’re all common out there.
[00:27:49] And especially for the data decoration piece. What I was finding was that I it’s just more fun. It’s so fun to start messing with the chart colors and how things are laid out. It’s almost like a relaxing way of avoiding the much bigger work at hand, which is how do I frame the sexual insights so that it’s accurately clearly represented with a very compelling recommendation. Right.
[00:28:19] And that’s the thing. I think a lot of people, though, say I gonna find that I’m going to invent this new visualization that nobody’s ever seen before. And that’s that’s great. But only if it communicates something. Right. In a better way. And that’s why we use that visualization, because it communicates it better than any other visualization we could have used. But often it’s it’s that day to decorate. You know, I’m trying to do something innovative or novel. And with that, then the insight gets lost. You know, product is there was an insight.
[00:28:48] And I understand that desire, because if you’re familiar with the Six Core Human Needs by Tony Robbins, which he translated from the Maslow hierarchy, uncertainty and novelty is actually a core human need. And I get caught sometimes because I go to a lot of my reliable standbys for communicating data clearly because they have a low learning curve and they don’t require a tremendous explanation. And I also recognize that sometimes a whole deck full of bar charts might be might be boring. So how do you balance, you know, people’s needs and desires for novelty with that core focus of telling the important insight?
[00:29:39] Yeah, I think there are some different options that we have. We don’t always have to go with a bar chart. You know, and in in my book, I talk about some of those options. I think you’ve recently talked about the slope graph. That’s something that Cole also talks a lot about. And I think that there are some different options out there if we need to visualize the information in a way that’s not going to bore the audience. I think that’s fine. But we can never uncouple ourselves from communicating something clearly. And so if that means at the end of the day, a bar chart is the best way to communicate it, then probably I need to to go there and use another bar chart. But to your point, you know, if it’s the tenth bar chart in a row there. There you do have to think of your audience and brand. Am I going to lose my audience at some point? Maybe it might be better to trend the data or maybe look at it a different way. But typically, I’m I’m very grounded to what is going to communicate things that most clearly and simply for the audience and not try and go some crazy visualization that, you know, then you’re going to look at your audience and they’re like their eyes or glossing over and they’re getting some confused glances from them.
[00:30:57] At the end of day, you don’t lose your audience. So I think at the end of the day, I don’t think we have to necessarily entertain our audience. I think the data the data should if we have a compelling narrative and we have a compelling message with our data and the visualizations are a piece of that. But I think the narrative and the data itself can be all a part of really telling a compelling story, a data story that’s going to compel people to act. And I don’t think we have to get into the bells and whistles so much because at the end of the day, you know, we’re talking we’re sharing insights about their customers. We’re talking we’re sharing insights about their. Partners or our partners or wherever it is. And if we’ve got the relevant data and it’s it’s timely and it’s it’s it’s helpful to the audience, then. I don’t think we’re going to lose our audience because we’re sharing yet another bar chart.
[00:31:54] Right. I think you’re making me reflect that. If you’ve if you have a deck of 20 bar charts, it’s actually could also be a representation of are you only looking at the data through one specific lens of comparing a number of categories or composition and something? Are there other facets of exploration, such as trending or not ranking? You know, correlation, things like that that can also take them on a more a different visual journey just because you’re now looking at it from different angles.
[00:32:31] Right. Absolutely.
[00:32:33] Interesting. So what one of the things I love most about your book is it drove really deep into narrative structure, which I see touched on in a lot of books. But you really went deep. You talked about Aristotle’s tragedy and Campbell’s hero’s journey and Frank tagg’s pyramid, which I actually just discussed with Cold Newspaper and Affleck, who you just mentioned on our previous episode. So the question was always for me, how can an ancient narrative structure used in Greek tragedy be applied to a modern corporate presentation? Where do they intersect?
[00:33:09] Yeah. No, that’s a great that’s a great question because when I’ve looked at this, I I kind of under- again, analytics electical minded.
[00:33:20] I you know, I I originally thought that if I had the right data and visualize it the right way, that would be enough. And I kind of downplayed the importance of narrative. And as I started writing this book and as I started presenting on it more, I started to realize, oh, my gosh, narrative is really critical and it’s really powerful for how you present your information. So when I looked at Aristotle’s, you know, his his arc and in a lot of people summarize it is that beginning, middle and end. And I always found and that’s, you know, a textbook has a beginning, middle and end. So and that’s not a story. So I I kept looking because I didn’t I wasn’t satisfied with that. And then I also stumbled across Campbell’s journey, which was and Nancy to Artes book resonate. But I found it too complex things for totally the Xav, too complex for a business use case. Obviously, if you’re writing a fictional novel, it’s it’s a great model or framework that you can follow. So I landed on Guss to Frey Tech, who is a German playwright. And he’s he looked at the Greek tragedies, he looked at Shakespearean plays, and they found that they all had a very similar story arc. And what I’ve done in my book is I’ve taken that story arc and applied it today to storytelling. So the first thing that you do is you establish the setting. And so what that means is you’re trying to say, here’s how our data you know, this is how we were performing. This is how our products were performing over time. And you can see kind of the trends there.
[00:34:54] And then all of a sudden, then you have what I call a hook, which which then is that a dip or a spike in a metric? And that is where you hook the audience, because it’s like, oh, wait a second. You’re telling us that something happened, something interesting, something unusual, something unexpected. Yeah. And then from there we build up to what I call the aha moment, which is the climax. Right. So that’s we build up to that. And I in the free tech model he calls it rising action. And I’ve covered that to rising insights. Very nice. So you basically are sharing supporting details and observations from the data that build up to your aha moment, which is your main insight that you’re sharing with the audience. And then to kind of finish the story with with a traditional story under free text model, then you have the resolution and and then basically all the you find out what happened to all the characters and everything’s kind of resolved well with a business setting. We’re not done yet. We have to take that aha moment and then say, OK, what do we do about it collectively? What do we do about it? And so that’s where we go in. And we actually talk about the next steps. We talk about what is the solution. And so if you’ve done some analysis, you found a problem in that stage, then you’ll say, well, here are three options that we have. We can we can do nothing. And this is what’s going to happen. You know, maybe that’s not thing. We could spend a whole lot of money and then maybe the the extra revenue we generate doesn’t outweigh the costs or we have this third option where we spend a little bit of money over here.
[00:36:36] And I think we can more or less solve the problem. It’s it it’s you know, we’re gonna get a great return. And so that for me, that closure point of just tying everything together. And again, it goes back to the principles of my book where we’re trying to drive change. You’re trying to drive action that leads to that change. And unless we take you know, we can’t just say, oh, here’s the aha. Here’s the insight that we found. RB So smart. You’re now go go forth and live on a high note. Yeah. No, but we actually have to follow through on that insight and tell the audience or inform the audience. What do you do about this? And so I found that, you know, following this model, I found it to be very effective and very helpful for people to look at all of their findings and go through them and decide, OK, how am I going to present this? OK. Well, I have to I have to stabilize the setting. I have I have my aha moment. I can go through all of my analysis and find findings that can serve as these rising insights. And then. OK. So what am I going to tell my audience to do? What are those next steps? What are those resolutions? And I think that that model can be really helpful to people and in training, taking their data that they have and transforming it into something that’s actionable and and powerful to the audience.
[00:37:55] I couldn’t agree more.
[00:37:57] The entire spectrum of all of the different practices and principles and ideas you can apply. I honestly think that ah, that simple arc is the. Thing that is missing from any sort of presentation, really. And anyone who really wants to level up their game and really start to see results, I think will start learning how to incorporate that arc into their information. So you did an amazing job really explaining and breaking that down. So another thing I loved, I’m actually planning on writing more about this in the coming year. Are analogies I think analogies are such powerful storytelling tools, especially, you know, in our tech heavy space for those people who are not sitting behind a desk all day seeing how hard things are. So talk to me about how you see analogies being used really well. And if you have an example of one that worked well every great.
[00:39:02] So one of the things about analogies, I view them as mental shortcuts. Right. So we come with maybe, maybe data that’s complex or harder to understand and then we use when we associate to something that other people can relate to. All of a sudden we’re building a bridge or we’re we’re providing a shortcut to help them quickly understand something that may be more difficult to to understand or follow. So I talk about it in the narrative section of my book. How do you identify these analogies? And I use analogies about right throughout the book. So one of the analogies and this is not invented by me, but very common is we compute we compare the human brain to what, a computer. Right. Because you have you know, you have the memory, you have the hard drive, you have the the inputs that are coming into the computer. And I use that, you know, it’s it’s a pretty well used analogy, mainly because it’s easy to follow and don’t have to have a degree in biology or neuroscience to understand how the human brain works. We can associate it to something that we all have, which are computers. And there are several other I I am an analogy fanatic. I really believe in their power and that they can help to take the concepts that we’re trying to explain to somebody and make them easier to understand and also to remember. Right. Once you once you’ve heard an analogy for something, a good analogy, you’ll you’ll latch onto that and you’ll re-use it again and again.
[00:40:41] Very powerful, especially the more visual and even tactile. When I teach about the concept of cognitive load, do people learning about presenting this idea that our brains can only store so much information rather than going into the actual synapses that are firing and whatnot? I liken it to trying to juggle a number of balls in the air at once in a working memory. And if you throw too many balls at that person, eventually they’re going to drop all of them. And that’s right. The element of distraction. So, yeah. Now, if there’s any source or I mean, you have examples in the book, which are great, too. But I think the more analogies there are that we can use in this field, I think the easier it’s going to be to create that bridge. But I love the phrase mental shortcut. That is grapes. So, you know, I must I also have a question around like curiosity about the trends that we’re seeing in this space. There are companies creating more A.I. based dashboard query based reporting systems. Hey, Alexa, what was our profit margin yesterday? And yet one of my favorite lines in your book is that every data story needs a storyteller. So what’s your thought on the role of humans in corporate data storytelling? You know, will we become obsolete?
[00:42:15] Yeah. I don’t I don’t think so. I think that human beings have a place. We have a.. An ability to branch across different things and understand and connect things in ways that computers haven’t yet been able to to do yet. I mean, they’re obviously we’re seeing amazing progression and what’s going on. And there’s natural language processing. There’s natural language generation. And I’ve seen a lot of vendors out there talk about, oh, we can we can take all of the visualizations that you have and we can add text to kind of describe the data. And I think that’s missing the point, too, because visualizations should communicate really much better than text. And, you know, that’s neat that the technology can do that. But that’s not explaining the information. It’s just describing the information. I make a big point of that, that we as human beings, we can’t do that as well. We can’t just describe the information we have to to explain it. And I think that’s where we humans come in, because we can explain the reason why that product launch failed was because outside of our data universe, we saw that our major competitor just did a massive campaign and we observed that we brought that in.
[00:43:35] You know, as human beings, we can connect things that that maybe in the corporate data set the A.I. or the machine learning couldn’t couldn’t detect because it wasn’t a part of the data they didn’t know. And so I think that we have a way we have a role. And I think that as human beings, we there may be ways that the computers can augment our abilities. They can help us to detect and find insights in the data, but then to be able to broaden that out, look at other datasets, and then communicate that to people, to business leaders, to our teammates, to whoever that’s going to rely on us. And I think that that is a key role. I don’t think that we’re going to be removed from that role anytime soon. I think there’s always going to be a role for the data storyteller. Now, one of the things that I have seen that that is concerning is if we’re going to tell data stories and we’re relying on these technologies of machine learning or artificial intelligence.
[00:44:37] If those are black boxes. How do we tell the data story? Because we don’t percent know how.
[00:44:47] They don’t know what’s in it.
[00:44:48] Yeah, we don’t know. We don’t know how they came up with it. We don’t know if it’s just there could be issues or different things. So there’s that’s gonna be the interesting challenge. How do we work? Well, with technology, I see huge potential there to augment our abilities, to find insights, to even communicate insights more effectively using that technology. But I I still feel like as human beings, we understand the target audience better than anybody else. And we’re going to be able to bridge the insight to that audience.
[00:45:19] Very well said.
[00:45:23] Okay. So we are at a segment called The Upgrade.
[00:45:28] And I’d love if you could share any sort of tool or book or expert, any kind of resource that played a really fundamental role in your data storytelling journey that you think the listener might be able to benefit from.
[00:45:43] Yeah. So one of the individuals that I really inspired me and I even mentioned him in my book, he might have seen it was Hans Rosling. Yes, of course. So Hans Rosling, if you don’t know Hans Rosling, Google him. Now start listening. Yeah. Stuff. No, but he was an amazing man. And, you know, I looked at I have a few stories from him in my book. And I actually analyze one of the one of the presentations that he did. And breaking it down, how he told how he told stories with data. And so he was a doctor in his background and focused on global health trends and and just really took data and made it very personable, fun. You know, I think there’s a lot of great quotes out there that, you know, anybody else would have found this data to be boring. Right. But he was he was able to inject his personality and his and his passion for changing perceptions about third world countries, about about health and different things. And his TED talks are amazing. Yes. And so he really inspired me. I think that his approach and how he took the data made it approachable and accessible for other people, even though it might have been really complex and lots of data points. You know, he was able to take that information and make it accessible to anybody. And I think that was that’s something he inspired me and and he was a big focus of my book.
[00:47:18] Agreed. I had never seen anything like what I saw in those TED talks. And you’re right. It’s so much about the personality you can breathe your own life into. What might feel boring data? I don’t think the data itself is inherently boring. It’s not anything. It’s truly the enthusiasm and the passion of it. It’s the difference between, hey, guys says I read out and our conversion rate went down to like, hey guys, it’s Q3. So we did some interesting things last quarter and these are some of the things we saw that all looks good here.
[00:47:57] But wait a minute, guys, we actually dug a little bit deeper and we have to show you did it did you know that one of the cool things about Hornes is he was so excited about the inside, said he had, but he cared that people understood them. He never kind of. It wasn’t about him. It wasn’t even about the data. He just wanted the people to understand the insights. And so he used all kinds of creative. He didn’t just use you know, you might be familiar with the bubble charged and animated. Yeah. gapminder. But there are other videos out there where he used plastic containers used in all kinds of other things to just get the point across and help people understand the main point, the main idea. And I think that’s it goes back to your original point, the audience and how do we engage the audience? How do we get them excited about the insights you are about to share with them? And I think that, you know, he was a great inspiration for me on that front.
[00:48:55] Great share. I love it.
[00:48:59] All right. This is our final question. Think hard hairbrained. Imagine this very plausible scenario. You are perusing the vintage section of Dr. Vault’s Comic Connection in Salt Lake City. When you suddenly trip and fall into a vortex that pulls you back to the moment you’re about to deliver your first presentation. What are you presenting about? If you remember. And what would today you say to yesterday you?
[00:49:30] So I’ll go back to when I was an intern at Microsoft and I was presenting on different topics like Y2K.
[00:49:40] How’d that go by?
[00:49:41] Oh, yeah, well, so. One of the things that I would go back to that day now working at Microsoft. It was it was great because I got to see the full power of PowerPoint and how it can really be used, because I was coming into that internship. I I I used PowerPoint and I used it. What I thought was effectively but I had no idea about the full capabilities. But what I would go back to that initial few times when I was presenting, as I would say, make sure that you don’t take just the corporate presentation slides, make it your own. And so what I found is sometimes when we work at companies, you know, there’s a lot of decks and and promotional materials that are provided by the marketing department. And when I was in that junior role, I was just a junior marketer, slash sales kind of representative for Microsoft. And I would take these decks and just, you know, look at the the talk track and follow the script. And that’s what they want you to do. But then I’m just a talking puppet. I’m not it doesn’t reflect my personality, doesn’t reflect my ideas. I’m just you know, I’m just a mouthpiece. I’m nothing more than that. And so I’ve always enjoyed. And ever since then, I’ve always enjoyed in injecting my personality into every presentation that I present is going to have my sense of humor, my unique take on things. And what I found is that the audience responds better to that because they can you’re you’re excited, you’re having fun, you’re enjoying the presentation. I’m not just up there presenting what marketing wants me to present. Obviously, you’ve got to hit the key points, right. And you can’t deviate too much from the script. But within that realm, I’m going to insert my personality. I’m going to own this and I’m going to have more fun. I’m going to remember the content. I’m going to be more engaging. Everything transforms at that moment. When you say I’m going to own this content, it’s gonna be me up there, not just what somebody else has built for me.
[00:51:50] Well, I really love that, especially because I think a lot of practitioners feel constrained visually by the branding templates that their departments create for them so they don’t feel they can deviate that much. But I really like what you’re saying is see it like look at the degree of flexibility that you have and leverage that. Right. I think that’s great advice. Well, Brent, this was amazing. But unfortunately, our time has come to an end. So please tell the listeners where they can keep up with you.
[00:52:24] Yeah, you can follow me at Alec’s hero. I also have a Web site. My book. So effective data storytelling dot com. He can go check out, learn more there and follow me on LinkedIn as well. Brent Dykes, I’d love to connect with you if your passion about data storytelling.
[00:52:39] Awesome. And Brent’s amazing book is available on Amazon now. The link will be on the show notes page as well as all the links he just mentioned. And I really think this is an essential read. It is packed with informative graphics and all sorts of illustrations that really for me, helped me take it beyond the words and make everything so much more digestible and manageable, which is kind of the whole point of a tough hike. You wrote about so absolutely must read. So thank you so much. I’m so glad that our paths crossed again and I hope they do again soon. And I’m wishing you an amazing start to 2020.
[00:53:21] Thank you for actually a great to be here. Thank you for having me join. Your pointcast has been blessed.
[00:53:30] All right. What an awesome way to kick off an already awesome year. Yes, already. I sure hope that you will run to the Amazon and pick up a copy of Brent’s amazing book, and you’ll be sure to find that link and all the other links and resources mentioned in this episode on the show. Notes page at Lipscombe Slash 0 53. I would love for you to leave me a commoner suggestion because I want to hear about the challenges you face and I’ll leave you with a little bit of data presentation inspiration by Mr. Brent Dykes himself right from his book. And that is, if you are determined to have your insights understood and acted upon, you must shift your approach from simply informing to communicating as American journalist Sidney J. Harris said. Information is giving out.
[00:54:27] Communication is getting through. I love a good quote within a quote like a Russian nesting doll, and it couldn’t be more true. It’s very important to make that distinction. And this is the year we’re gonna make that happen. So that’s it for today. I’m wishing you a baller.
[00:54:46] Start to the new year and the new decade. We’re gonna make this a big one together.
[00:55:01] And that’s a wrap I would like. Well, this is my show and I don’t have to answer this.
[00:55:09] It’s a mystery. Do you?
[00:55:13] And I’m like, oh, yeah.
[00:55:21] Was awesome.