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Get Stakeholder Savvy and Win at Your Data Presentations with Kevin Hillstrom


Introducing Kevin Hillstrom

If you’re working in the data viz, analytics, and/or the presenting world, you will want to hear what Kevin has to say.


With almost thirty years of hands-on analytics experience and a proven track record as an Executive at a ten billion dollar a year retailer, Kevin Hillstrom is the President of MineThatData. He spends his days helping Executives at Retail and Online brands understand how their customers interact with merchandise, advertising, and channels. Whether you are presenting to a small group of executives or on a stage in front of thousands, Kevin has designed a method that helps him set up how he will present to his audience to reach everyone in the room, and it’s fascinating. His approach is both intuitive and formulaic, helping build trust from the get-go and making sure everyone feels heard. He is known for many things, including his optimizing catalog marketing budget, e-mail personalization via segmentation, persona development, and most importantly, his five-year sales forecasts that accurately project where a business is headed given its strategic choices. He has been interviewed by the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and Forbes. Kevin’s blog is one of the most widely read in the marketing industry, with approximately ten-thousand monthly followers, subscribers, and website/blog visitors. He’s here to show you what has and has not worked for him and to equip you with the tools you need to present to many different audiences. In this episode, Kevin explains the different ways he builds trust with his audiences, and he also breaks down his self-created Stakeholder Quadrant formula that helps him tailor his presentations to meet the needs of all of his audience members.

 In This Episode, You’ll Learn…

    • How his early career choices taught him the value of creating and presenting information in a way that is different from anyone else.
    • His “tidbits” method for taking open-ended questions and helping companies make changes in small and easier to implement doses.
    • The catastrophe that changed the course of his career and helped him rethink his approach to data and presenting.
    • How he creates trust with his clients and why it is important.
    • His method for catering his presentations to address the majority and minority in his audiences.
    • The wise advice he would share to his career beginner self.

People, Resources, & Links Mentioned


 Want to grab a copy of Kevin's Stakeholder Savvy Quadrant for speaking for effectively to different audiences? Click below: Click here to download

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Thanks for Listening!

Thanks so much for joining me. Have some feedback you’d like to share or a question for Kevin? Leave a note in the comments below, and we’ll get back to you!

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A very, very special thanks to Kevin for joining me this week. And as always, viz responsibly, my friends.

Do you have a burning question for Kevin about his Stakeholder Quadrant? If so, ask away!

[00:00:00] Happy October. Lea here. Today's guest is an analytics and e-commerce legend who's helping companies with their customers by presenting their data for impact. Stay tuned to find out who's strutting their stuff on Present Beyond Measure. Episode 37.

[00:00:16] 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. It's October people

[00:00:44] Fall is upon us. The leaves are turning. The air is chilling and that has nothing to do with today's show but I bet I had you thinking that for just a second. All right so I'm going to be lots of places in the next few months. Where am I going to be? Well if you are in the Philly area I would love to meet you at the Digital Analytics Association Philadelphia symposium this Thursday. My friends Jim Stern and Adam Greco are speaking amongst some really big names. So this is going to be a very special event. If you're going please hunt me down and we'll chat. This is also your last chance to sign up and join me at the Digital Analytics Hub the following week in Austin, Texas. It is the premier Analytics Conference in the country, a very interesting unique format. Intimate huddles and lots of upfront face time with amazing thought leaders in this space. I'll be delivering the keynote on the main day and hosting a very rare offering of my full inspired insights Data Storytelling Bootcamp as well. By the end of that workshop you will learn how to plan, design, and deliver your data story in a way that informs decisions, inspires ideas, galvanizes stakeholders into action, and communicates the value of your work. Seats are really limited so you don't want to miss the chance to get this information in your hands at this rate. You can learn more and sign up at And finally if you’re in the mood for a Benelux getaway to Northern Europe, I will be keynoting conversion hotel in a secret island off the Netherlands and I have heard amazing things about this event. I’m really honored to have been invited so I'd love to see you there too. And I never thought I'd say the word Benelux on his show. So all of those links are going to be on the show's page for this episode.

[00:02:48] All right let's get to the show.

[00:02:56] Hello everyone. Today's guest is the president of Mine that Data where he helps executives at retail and online brands understand how their customers interact with merchandise advertising and channels. He has nearly 30 years of hands on analytics experience and a proven track record as an executive at a 10 billion dollar a year retailer. Known for optimizing catalog marketing budget, email personalization, persona development, and most importantly five year sales forecasts that accurately project where your business is headed given your strategic choices. His blog is one of the most widely read in the marketing industry and he has been interviewed by The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and Forbes. So with that I'd like to introduce you to Kevin Hillstrom. Welcome.

[00:03:45] Hey welcome. Thanks for the nice intro.

[00:03:48] Well-deserved. That's how I roll.

[00:03:50] So we recently met online when you mentioned me on the Twitter and I jumped at the chance at having you on my show because what you talked about is that you really understand the power of thoughtfully presented insights to stakeholder audiences, and I thought you'd be great for this show because you have a huge body of experience in working directly with non-technical executives. So you know, as I speak to a very heavily analyst and marketer audience I thought you could help us decode what it is their audience is looking for when we communicate to them. Does that sound good? Sounds excellent. Awesome. Well first everyone will want to hear your origin story. Tell us a little bit about how you fell into the world of analytics and marketing.

[00:04:37] So I have a statistic degree from University of Wisconsin so way back almost 30 years ago I got a degree and my first job out of college was working at a place called the Garst Seed Company. It was a place that farmers would get their seed from to plant corn or to plant sorghum. And so I mean it was pretty geeky technical work that we were doing. And I was with people who were so much smarter than me, these people were just incredible. And I am just 22 years old and I just have my little tools that my programming and I really can't compete with this audience. And so after about a year of seeing where things were going and seeing that I just didn't really have a place. I decided to explore a little bit with some of the programming code and so basically I created a map. So if I wanted to plot how a current hybrid was for me and the state of Iowa, I would play. When the hybrid did well I would make like a mountain and when the hybrid did poorly, I created this valley. Okay. And with this plot I was able to basically find my little place where I was actually showing data in a way that nobody else was. So I couldn't compete on math and I couldn't compete on experience. I had to compete somehow. And so that was kind of the tool that I use and I got to present this at a staff conference back in 1990. And I then was looking to move back to Wisconsin, which is my home state. And I found a position that was open at Land's End which is a catalog company. And I created a map and it was about the number of junebugs killed daily on Wisconsin highways.

[00:06:28] With fictitional data.

[00:06:30] Not real. And I did this in color because back in 1990 there wasn't a lot of color.

[00:06:36] Ok. So I did this in color and on glossy paper and I sent that with my resume and the hiring director of marketing there who is doing the hiring, she was ready to hire somebody else. She saw that graph when it came in they brought me in for an interview and then they asked questions. More than anything else not about my skill set but about background and you know they just wanted to know how I did it, and what happened with that. So I basically got the job and that's how I got into retail, was through that graph. So essentially having a skill set and being able to share information in a way that was different and that people were not used to seeing was very beneficial in my career. And that's what got me into retail and got me jump started on the path that I'm currently on. Wow that's amazing.

[00:07:24] So if you're looking for a job create something visually compelling and that might just make you stand out. Is that the moral of that story?

[00:07:35] That would be the more story, yes.

[00:07:37] That's an amazingly inventive idea. So that's great advice onto its own. So I just, I want to talk about what it is you're doing now quickly. You know if we were locked in a room for three hours what would you and what you do at Mine that Data be able to help me do by the time we come out, and who am I?

[00:07:55] Well what I do now is I work with CEOs at retail companies or e-commerce companies and they typically have a problem. And what it really comes down to is the CEOs that I'm working with have a problem but they don't know how to articulate what the problem is and they certainly don't know what the solution is. So they will contact me. They typically read my blog and they typically follow it for a couple of years before they contact me. And then when they contact me, they'll say a question like “our business is down 10 percent to last year and we think that the marketing team just doesn't know what they're doing. Could you take a look at our customer data and help us figure out what's going on.”

[00:08:40] It's an incredibly open ended question but that's exactly what I want.

[00:08:45] I do not want a CEO prescribing to me what I'm going to do. I want the open ended question and then I have a set of code that I use, and a set of analytics that I use that as far as I know not many other people use. So it makes me kind of unique and different and it gives me a purpose for being. So technically, I'm not competing with a whole lot of people. And so that allows me to basically stay busy and to have a reputation with CEOs who kind of want to get things fixed but don't know how to articulate very well what their problem is. So I run through my code, I run through my diagnostics and within a day or two I've got a story for what is good and bad about this business. And then what I do is I issue what I call Tidbits. So every day first thing in the morning I send the CEO and their executive team a little fact finding mission kind of. So what I do is I'll say I noticed that you stopped creating a lot of new items. Let's pretend it's Macy's. You know you stopped having a lot of new items in your stores you started having a lot of the same merchandise over and over again. And I notice that after nine months all of a sudden your sales further decline and I looked at sales by new merchandise versus existing merchandise and I could see that new merchandise sales are down 40 percent, existing merchandise sales are up 10 percent.

[00:10:11] So I know you did something. And I will stop the tidbit right there. Now I already know what the story is but I stop that tidbit right there and what I'm looking for now is feedback. I'm looking for the CEO or the executive team to start to beat me up. I am looking for them to start to say you're wrong and here are the reasons why you are wrong.

[00:10:30] And they will then give me that feedback and I don't get defensive or anything I just don't even respond to their feedback. The next day I do a tidbit again and the tidbit incorporates whatever word with their feedback and so basically I'm taking their hypotheses and validating whether their hypotheses are accurate or not accurate. And I'm basically walking them down a path where eventually they're going to be happy with what they learn because after 25 or 30 days they were going to be agreeing to everything they've learned all along the way. And there aren’t going to be any big surprises at the end of the project. And that's really basically what I do. I work on a couple of these projects a month and I have found that this process works really well to get people to basically share stuff that they’re not ready to share all in one big gulp. I can give them insight on a daily basis and I tell a story to pick them up.

[00:11:22] Wow, this is so interesting because one of the most frequent complaints that I've had and my students complain about is that stakeholders don't know how to communicate what it is exactly they're looking for. They'll give very broad open ended questions and the analyst will approach it in an analysis with kind of a throwing spaghetti on the wall approach hoping that one of the 50 metrics they extract and put in a presentation actually sticks. But you're saying I think that you want that open ended question you don't want them to bias you or send you down a specific path you want to actually have a fresh take on what's happening. But you know exactly. You're so well versed in that you know exactly what to look for.

[00:12:13] I think that's a fair way to say that. You know I if a CEO or vice president is telling me what I need to do and how I need to do it my first question would be why aren't you already doing that at your company. You already have analysts. You already have smart people and so why wouldn't you already be doing that and solving the problem in house. I want it to be an open ended question because that tells me they don't know how to solve it and then I have a better chance to help them.

[00:12:39] I see. Got it. OK well I'm sure that you know presentation is a very integral part and helping people understand what it is you're talking about is an integral part of succeeding with these projects so you know one question I have is early in your career did you have an example of anything you presented early on that really changed the trajectory of your career path.

[00:13:06] I had a catastrophe actually. When I worked at Land's End I had been there about three years

[00:13:15] And our business was performing well but not as good as it had performed historically. And we had all these different business units and all of the business units were basically marketing to the same customer. And so you can kind of think of it like if you were in it. If I use Macy's as an example. If you were in the cosmetics area the cosmetics areas marketing to a customer and then women's handbag areas marketing to a customer and they're often the same customer. And so they're kind of having a tug of war for their customer in terms of who's going to win it. And what I did is I created because we were having this tug of war in-house between all the different business units, like men's and women's and the home and kids all fighting for the same customer. I created a geeky mathematical longterm experiment for 12 months. It was a two to seven factorial design.

[00:14:09] I didn't tell a single person that's what we were executing.

[00:14:12] Ok I gave everybody in our marketing department a list of customers and I said “You can either market to these customers or you can’t.” Everybody got a different list. But I maintained the master list. And so I had every combination of business strategy that you could actually execute for the company, you know and so that’s the number to the seventh degree of 128. I had 128 different test panels essentially and we executed this for a whole year and basically learned all the secrets of the business. After 12 months we knew everything. We knew the optimal way to run the business and the optimal way to run the business was to not let all of these different little business units do their own thing. But it was to really integrate everything and have a consistent unified message. And so I put together this incredible presentation I had maybe 200 different slides and graphs and charts and I couldn't get anybody to pay attention to this.

[00:15:10] And so I'm like OK I got to come up with a new idea. So what I did is I got all the management of our marketing team together the day before I knew there was an executive meeting to talk about this topic. And so I brought everybody together and I did a presentation just to our marketing team who already knew all the answers.

[00:15:29] And so they're kind of bored with this. But the the person who is running the marketing department she hadn't seen this before. And so she's seen this for the first time and she stops halfway through the presentation and she says What are you doing tomorrow. And I'm like well I'm coming to work.

[00:15:43] It's like wow I need you to come to our executive meeting and you're going to spend a half a day sharing that.

[00:15:52] So.

[00:15:53] So I mean so I learned something interesting about presenting there in that it didn't matter how good my slides were how good my content was. Timing was kind of important because I knew that this executive meeting with a day later by setting up this meeting I created the environment to get me in that room.

[00:16:10] Ok.

[00:16:11] So far I'm thinking I am the greatest analyst of all time high of all highs just you know I'm I'm 28 years old and I know more than anybody else.

[00:16:21] And so I walk into this executive meeting and I start sharing the data and everybody understands what I'm saying and I'm getting no questions.

[00:16:32] I’m getting none of the pushback I usually get below where people usually are very critical of your slides. They're critical of your methodology your technique. None of that. All I see is the room splitting in half. I have half of the room nodding their head and all excited and the other half of the room are digging their feet in and they are they're like okay I know where he's going with this.

[00:16:55] And this means my job is in jeopardy because I run one of the businesses he's saying should basically be shut down.

[00:17:03] Wow.

[00:17:04] And what ultimately happened was I get out of that meeting and it felt like for about a couple of months, maybe a month or two it was like people were carrying you around on their shoulders because you had just discovered something that was amazing. And what ultimately happened was the CEO who actually was on my side was fired and a person on the side of the room who didn't like what I was saying became CEO. And at that time I had a marketing department where I had I think I had four people reporting to me and my little analytics team and I'm running the analytics for the company. And within a week after that, I lost my team and I lost my place on the org chart and I'm just I'm like “holy cow I have made this colossal mistake because I didn't understand executive politics I didn't understand at all the stuff that's going on between CEOs and none of the communication was coming to me.” And ultimately, I left the company within a year because I didn’t have a place really.

[00:18:07] Wow. The blowback. Yeah, because of the blowback. I was pretty arrogant. So I think I earned the opportunity to have that happen to me. But now that that happened to me I moved to a different company I moved to the west coast and worked for Eddie Bauer and Nordstrom and I took a very different approach and with Nordstrom the person who had at Lands End made my life miserable hired me at Nordstrom six years later

[00:18:31] We worked out OK.

[00:18:34] Yeah but this whole executive how executives work in the communication in the power structure and all that was something I was so blind to that I let my arrogance get me in trouble.

[00:18:45] And so I decided I wouldn't let that happen again.

[00:18:48] Wow. You know what. Thank you so much for sharing that story. You know it's, people love to share stories about the wins that they've had. But I love getting to the vulnerable side of saying hey you know what we really messed up. And I'm so happy, I love how you frame that “It was the lesson you were ready to learn.” Something like that. Because that's what these are. And you know something I take away from this as well is when I think of my hot shot era. It was definitely around age 28. I was like owning a whole department. I thought I knew everything. And yet when I would present data nothing would happen. I didn't end up having total shakeups but nothing would happen which is kind of almost as bad because you're supposed to be helping convince people to actually do something and that's around the time exactly when I discovered the world of presentation and data visualization and storytelling and I realized everything I'd been doing wrong. It was this huge watershed moment and I really had my you know what handed to me in that I had just been completely running amok. And I think that's when I started to adopt a forever student mindset and saying the more that I know the less, the more that I actually have to learn you know. So that's how.

[00:20:12] How did you put it into your subsequent presentations then once you have this watershed moment. What did you do then to make an improvement on what you had been doing?

[00:20:22] Oh I love this role reversal. This is so great. Sure. So I came across books that really shook up the foundation of everything I knew about presenting. It started with Presentations Zen and then that the design version of that Information Dashboard Design and Now You See It by Stephen Few. And I even looked up books like Talk Like Ted to understand storytelling elements and also Resonate by Nancy Duarte and the way they tried to do it. One of the most effective things I did actually is I took a persuasive almost like a pitch funding persuasive presentation framework from a woman named Olivia Mitchell and she basically would use it to help people pitch for VC funding. And I thought hey you know it looks like a really focused framework. You know we're trying to persuade people to do stuff. So I pretty successfully adapted it to an analytics and marketing construct where it's very focused. You have a key. You have an intro that is designed to rally people together during that meeting, get a little anticipation going. Hype up the energy which I know you've never been in a low energy meeting before it might be hard to believe. But that would make it stand out. And then you have like a key message let's say you have a quarterly review and you know what your key message is that you put in all these optimizations in Q1 and they fell 30 percent below the mark you wanted to hit. So that's kind of the message but you have all these reasons why you think that that happened. And we have recommendations of how we can regain that traction in Q2.

[00:22:14] So under that that's kind of your key message. You choose three to five main ideas or metrics or insights that encapsulate and tell the story of what is behind that message it's the supporting evidence for that key message and you don't pick more than 3 to 5 because what I find is that if you overwhelm your audience with lots of metrics that's the more they're trying to hold in their head the less they're going to remember anything. And the less likely they will act on everything right. If they have fewer things to act on they're more likely to get it done at least in my experience. So you put out your three to five metrics or insights and you talk about why that happened maybe invite a dialogue, invite some arguments from the audience. If you haven't anticipated them already and then you pose your recommendations and you get buy in. And you assign accountability and a timeframe and then you recap all of that and you make sure everyone's really clear on next steps and then you leave that meeting with a sense of I know exactly what I was supposed to learn here. I can remember most of it and I know what I'm supposed to do from here going forward. And what I'm finding is that has been one of the most useful things that I've pulled from that watershed moment of I've been just throwing this disorganized shopping cart of things, of numbers at my audience to something that felt really focused and defined the word actionable at least in my experience

[00:23:49] And see that the method you just described helps you come across as a leader because you're going to be perceived differently because of the way you are choosing to share information and putting accountability and people in having takeaways coupled with a small number of things to learn that you come across and an executive sees you behaving like that. And they say well she have got it together she is there's something about her. And executives like the look for those kind of soft skills and they see those soft skills are repeated over and over again and the executive sees that that's happening consistently and the person is following through. Then they’ll trust you and they're going to come to you with other problems and that they're going to your career path goes on a different trajectory. Once you've earned trust like that so you clearly learn something about a softer side of presenting coupled with leadership and you're using them in a good manner.

[00:24:48] Well I appreciate that and actually I've never thought of it that way if I really think back to before and after I used that approach. I do remember going in the room and that before with this mindset of Oh God I hope something I put in here. I hope they like anything in here and like almost in an apologetic like I'm sorry for living guys here's their monthly metrics. Then after that I was going in there with more of assertive. I'm telling this story. This is you know what we put together. And yes I want to I want to be in charge of corralling the conversation around who's doing. And I never thought of it that way from a leadership perspective.

[00:25:31] Yeah I had an analyst when I worked at Nordstrom and she was probably the worst analyst of 20 people in my department.

[00:25:40] I mean she could not put together good presentations and she did not have the math background or the programming background you need.

[00:25:49] But she was the person that. So if we went into a meeting with with other executives and one of my analysts got in trouble I noticed that she would bill that person out. She would just articulate in a way that the whole room would just had this call. So she did what you're describing you know she's she's a she would've boil the message down to a couple of key points to get the room to agree that this is important. She would then say OK how are you going to attack this problem. And she was at the analyst or low level manager and she's assigning directors somebody presidents chores before they leave the meeting and they would all just listen. They were in a spell.

[00:26:27] And so that there is a skill to doing that. And so in her case then I would have to develop her math skills and yet use her in a way that was you know to to get our department to go somewhere positive. And she was that voice. So you're describing something in your career that's very comparable to that. That's that's it's just it's so powerful when somebody can say things and you can get at room of executives then to say OK I trust this person and that that trust is a big deal once they trust you they stop questioning a lot of the metrics and numbers.

[00:26:59] I think that's an excellent point and I'm really glad that you brought up trust because a lot of the questions I get asked by students indicate to me that there is an underlying trust issue behind what some of the asks are from executives so what are some of the ways that you create trust with your clients and your analysts have been able to create with their clients.

[00:27:25] I’d say the first thing, it sounds really ridiculously simple, is executives oftentimes see the work that an analyst does and think that there is a math error or a what I would call a business error, meaning the person doesn't have the business experience to bring about the point of view they're bringing about. And so when the executive is poking holes in things they want to see if there's a math error there that they can't identify on their own and don't have the skills to do so. They're trying to probe for that and then are trying to probe to see what kind of business skills the person has whether what that person is saying is actionable within the executive mindset. In the companies I work with, the executives are not allowed to share the 128 catastrophes that are happening behind the scenes. And so they have just left a meeting where people were crying and there was yelling and some disaster happening. And that's all confidential at 9:59 when that meeting is over. Then at 10:00 they come in and that's not sitting with that analyst an analyst is sharing something and a lot of times that executive is basically struggling from the meeting they were just in. They're struggling with the concept in that meeting and they're looking out to the analyst who's talking about a very specific topic and they're trying in their mind they're saying How am I going to apply this specific topic to the 128 catastrophes that are happening right now and they can’t tell the analysts that there's 128 catastrophes happening.

[00:28:56] And so a lot of when you're presenting is you're trying to fish for information. It's almost like you're playing poker and the other person is hiding their cards and they're not going to tell you what they have. And you're betting in poker you're trying to get information out of that person in the same aspect. When I'm working with an executive team, I'm constantly trying to get these little pieces of information out of them and I'm looking around the room and seeing who likes each other, who doesn't like each other, who's tired, who's happy, who is nodding their head, who's on their phone.

[00:29:29] And I'm trying to see all the interpersonal dynamics and that affects what I'm going to present to them after the first five minutes or so. So just as an analyst. I mean as an analyst you don't have all of that background knowledge that's going on with all these executives that I might have now. But that doesn't mean you still can't go fishing.

[00:29:50] So when you're presenting something there's nothing wrong with saying Is this something that's going to help you improve business. And I’m being really generic here but this is something that's going to help you improve business and if you don’t get an answer those first two or three minutes that executive says no. That doesn't mean you did a bad job.

[00:30:07] That means that executive’s head is somewhere else. And so you could ask her “what would help you?”

[00:30:13] And as you're asking these questions that executive will usually start to share things quite often things that they shouldn't be sharing or things that seem really disjointed to you but are are probably important to you.

[00:30:23] If you can triangulate and get the thing you know.

[00:30:26] So I like to when I visit a company and I'm presented to the executive team a lot of the analytics people come in and they're angry because they were supposed to solve this problem. And the company hired me instead. And I will sit down with them afterwards and I will tell them the perspective of the executive team and this is what the executive team is thinking about and here are the things you could do to make them happy and they'll frequently say well I didn't know that any of this was going on. And so I think as an analyst it's perfectly fine to ask questions back and to fish for some information and try to get as much information out of these executives as you can and that will help you then prepare a better presentation even if it's not that they will help you the next time I love this advice because it's all about probing and staying curious which are my words for life.

[00:31:19] This year I adopted those as my official brand statement for the year. Because you know what I think sometimes can happen is even when a request comes through to present information it can come across really vague like campaign results things like that and probing I encourage students to probe with additional questions kind of like what you're saying so I'll ask them like what's hot in your list right now? What would make your quarter a win? What's keeping you up at night? What would make your life easier or better right now? And you don't often ask stakeholders these questions. They're not often approached that way but it kind of gets more to the heart of the fact that they are human beings with beating hearts and they have needs, they have basic human needs that a lot of what you're talking about I think the behaviors you're talking about are trying to meet like for example if they're trying to keep mum around catastrophes happening they might have a need for certainty that they're keeping things quiet. They're handling them on their own and they don't have to deal with what's the unpredictable-ness of sharing what happens if they share what's really going on with someone they're not used to sharing with or don't have that trust with. Sure. So I think what is so great about that is that probing the way you're asking and helping teasing out what those real challenges that stakeholders are facing that they may not share right away is helping them to actually meet their needs through the work that you're doing.

[00:33:03] I'll give you one more example. Yes.

[00:33:06] I was in a meeting once with my boss, the president of the company and my boss tells me in this meeting “I'm going to fire you in the next month or so because your team of analysts and the whole leadership of this team is terrible.

[00:33:21] And I just don't think this is going to work anymore so I'm going to prepare the paperwork to have you move on. I just want to let you know that.” And so this meeting ends right before 10:00 on a Friday and at 10:00 I have my staff meeting with my analysts. And so I walk in this room and I am seething. I know that my analysts are doing a good job. I know that this isn't their fault in any way shape or form. And one of the things I did with my analyst team was I taught them little cues in my language. I said I'm not going to be able to share everything with you that’s happening but I'm going to use code words.

[00:33:56] If you pay attention to what I'm saying and you listen to these codewords it's going to give you an idea of what's going on. And so in my staff really now I'm presenting you know “here's what happened last week was going to happen is I would I would just dump in about seven or eight different phrases.” When that meeting was over one of my analysts came to me closed the door and she goes something's going on isn't it.

[00:34:16] I said what do you mean.

[00:34:18] And she says well you said, and she had written down the phrases I used and she was actually able to triangulate. She triangulated to the wrong thing. But it was close enough that she knew how to help me. Wow. And so part of it is just phishing and just listening for these little verbal cues that people give. Yeah. And as you as you learn that different personalities have different verbal cues or different ways of sharing information you can triangulate what the problem is and you can at least try to offer some help. You may not know what needs to be done but you can at least you know and this person I guess I was just in this meeting I felt miserable. I'm like but my career is ending today. It is horrible. And then you know I know she reports me but she's she was able to say I know something is going on and that makes you feel better and somehow you trusted analysts and so that analysts actually made it through that transition with me and did a really good job.

[00:35:14] But she was able to understand all those little hidden communication cues Wow that's amazing.

[00:35:21] And you know actually before you said something interesting you said that you will adjust how you're about to present or what you present based on interpersonal dynamics that you've just observed. So I would love to hear more about that too.

[00:35:37] Well I'm doing a presentation the first week September I'm going to visit a company and they own multiple brands. And this company has. They've got leaders that have different ways of doing things. One of the leaders is really good at math and so I'm going to have an appendix for that leader. I'm not going to share all the math in the meeting with all these people that would be bored by it. But I have an appendix that has all the different key pieces that this person will ask about. And when that person asks I;ll say go to the appendix, page 79.I mean I've already pre thought all that for that person. I would have people who are afraid of technology and they don't trust mobile marketing and e-commerce as much as they should. And so for them I’m going to have it for them I've got a whole section letting them know I'm going to protect your part of the business that you love and I save money in this different area. So I've got a piece of that presentation already prepared for that part of the audience that I know is scared about all of that.

[00:36:40] I've got the financial folks like the chief financial officer who need to save money and I'm going to have a piece of the presentation that talks about how I'm going to save them all of this money that they can invest elsewhere or they can just pocket. So I believe the presentation for all those different audiences. And if I know that of the minority of the audience like something I put it in my appendix. I know the majority of the audience is going to be interested in it or I believe they're going to be interested in it then I'm going to make that a section of my presentation and I'm going to focus on that and if I know that they really care about it I'm going to share almost everything before I even go on this trip to this company. I'm going to share with them so they already have it, so that when I show up they were at a point not worth that presenting I'm being bombarded with questions of being yelled at if we already have a common basis and we know where to move forward.

[00:37:31] Let's talk about moving forward as opposed to spending two hours going over the facts. I’m going to build all of those different pieces into my presentation ahead of time based on my knowledge of the people's personality.

[00:37:43] How that's very interesting especially because oftentimes people don't know what to include in their presentation versus what they put in the appendix. And typically what I've done is looked over and said Does this metric or insight apply to the story that I'm telling. And if not it should go with the appendix. But I like how you're adding in like thinking about the personality types and typically what people are looking for of your audience to make that determination and an executive like that.

[00:38:17] When an analyst, when the executive asks the question, I can say I've already thought of that and here's the answer exactly. That's the area where the executives get their big win.

[00:38:29] Yeah I remember what you're sharing about you. You build some trust and that person is going to let you they're going to give you more latitude to do more work and do it your way.

[00:38:39] Exactly. Yes. And even part of that framework that I mentioned before one of the components is trying to anticipate arguments that they're going to have against the insights you present. You know there's always that one person that says well I want to see the extra data or that doesn't line up with what I thought and things like that. And if you can actually get in front of that and prepare an answer then I find that you're really winning. You're in their head.

[00:39:05] Absolutely.

[00:39:07] So you know we're talking about looking at the different personalities. How do you present data differently based on the audience you're presenting to you like what are the different elements of an audience that you're looking at.

[00:39:24] A lot of the times I'm doing it think about this like a two by two grid I'm looking whether you're a technical person or non-technical and I'm looking whether you're a business person or a business person.

[00:39:36] So if I'm presenting something to the executive vice president of Human Resources is there that person is not a business person and that person is not a technical person. That is very important. But I have to put them in that quadrant and now in order for me to win that person over I have to have a presentation style that engages that person. So as an example I used to have a meeting with the executive team at this company every day at 9:00 and I had half of the room would be what I would call nonbusiness non-technical.

[00:40:10] Hence all these people are really bored silly if I go you know, yesterday we were 5.6 percent above plan and we made two hundred ninety one thousand dollars.

[00:40:18] They're gone right.

[00:40:20] And so what I would do is I created the daily quiz. And so I would pass it out.

[00:40:25] It was my job to start the meeting. I handed this out everyday I hand out this piece of paper and then they had a quiz would say. It would be like when a catalog customer buys something online does the customer continue to buy from catalogs B ship their business online. Or C have a bad experience only because

[00:40:47] I'm looking for everybody to answer B right?

[00:40:52] I know that my boss is technical and mathematical and nerdy and all of that is a lot like me is not going to settle for this. I'm like OK what's the correct answer. And everybody in the room because we were half the room is non-technical of business they would go Wow I think it's B and they would have a discussion they will we think it would be I bet you're right the answer is B and they would all clap.

[00:41:16] And now what I've just done is I have just set for the rest of the room what the right answer is and my boss who's the technical person next to me is going to beat the living daylights out of me now all the numbers that prove this hypothesis because he's going to treat me like this I've already set the whole room up.

[00:41:34] This is the answer that is right. And you're all happy.

[00:41:38] Ok. So if he's going to start attacking me he looks like a jerk

[00:41:43] And he would start attacking me and then the non-technical business people would all come to my defense at this point now because he I know he's going to come at me.

[00:41:55] I've got a whole bunch of technical. And so you're in the methodology we use here.

[00:42:01] And now that the non-technical business people are no longer listening because they're geeky math are saying it's over their heads but they don't care because they're happy that they get the answer and get them to support me right.

[00:42:14] So if anything I will focus on the CPU is in the room with and I do that basically you know what if you're a technical person you know if you're a business person. Yes. No and there's no judgment of which quadrant you land on. I'm just going to adjust how I present for those different audience okay.

[00:42:34] So this is great because I'm often asked how to adjust to your presenting style to when different audiences are in the same room. So I guess if I think about the takeaway youre looking to maybe settle the how do I say this to kind of answer the questions of the less technical focused focus Persse first. Or is it whoever is the majority ruling party first.

[00:43:08] I'm approached by the majority ruling party got its okay but in my world the majority ruling party is almost always non-technical not business people. Yes when you're early in your career and your team of analysts the majority really party is technical nonbusiness because you haven't earned the business experience yet rights and you're going to have to have a.

[00:43:31] You're going to have to have everything buttoned up for that audience. Yes.

[00:43:35] And then you're going to have to evolve as you as one executive comes in a room that is in the non-technical business world. I would start with them and just give them a high level. This is what's happening. Here's what you need to do and then go into with everybody else here's all the math behind it and all the technical stuff. And let's go ahead and have this discussion of all the technical stuff I've just made that person who isn't comfortable all that happy and they either agree or disagree me and I push that out right at the start of the meeting.

[00:44:03] You know what I just envisioned a sort of quadrant of non-tech tech and non-Biz biz.

[00:44:11] And like what you just said if you are technical but non-business you're really focusing on buttoning up those numbers and making sure they're airtight versus maybe business but non-technical you're really making sure you're tying whatever you're talking about directly to the business objectives and current goals of the company. That is so amazing. I would love to actually see like a diagram like that. What would you say are strategies for someone who's I don't know who would be working there but non-technical and non-business or do they exist?

[00:44:51] It's been my experience that at least half the people I know because I'm presenting now to executive teams I would say like if you work in human resources I'm going to say you're non business and I don't mean that in a negative way.

[00:45:05] Sure I just mean that you're not your job doesn't depend on whether you deliver profit numbers to the company or not.

[00:45:11] You see. Right. Your job is so important but so different from that to me is not business. If I'm in information technology I'm going to call that nonbusiness without you the company doesn't run.

[00:45:24] But your job is not to deliver a ton of profit. Your job is to put the systems in place that enable somebody else to generate profit. And with that nonbusiness non-technical, the I.T. person has to be technical not business but I might have a prickly in my copies I'll run across the person in charge of quality control they're making sure that when you buy a shirt you don’t have holes in it within a week. OK. That person has an extremely important job, it’s typically an executive vice president level job but that is non-technical non-business.

[00:45:59] If I win that person over that means I can win over somebody who's an inventory manager by a certain number of those items to sell to so they don't sell out too fast with that person over because we're going to make some website improvements are going to increase conversion rates by 10 percent of their need 10 percent more units to be purchased.

[00:46:19] We don't run out I need the trust and trust me if the quality assurance person trust me so I'm always kind of looking in that quadrant of figuring out where people are and then going to adjust my message based on where people are.

[00:46:34] This is so amazing so there is one quadrant left that may be the most challenging or not depending on how you see things is that someone who happens to be really technically sharp and have that business acumen. So how do you make them happy.

[00:46:53] I tell them we can agree to disagree.

[00:46:56] I'm serious.

[00:46:57] I know all those people get competitive. And if you come up with something that's new and clever and they haven't thought of it that gets to be a problem.

[00:47:08] And so they may beat you up even when they agree with you because they want to put you down in the pecking order. I had one person like this in my career and anytime my team had an idea that she thought should have been her idea I would let our I would. I told our department up front all 24 people if she says this is her idea we're going with it.

[00:47:30] And they would be frustrated, but we invented this.

[00:47:33] And I would say well here's the thing because she's in the information technology area. If she doesn't want to work on it our ideas don't get implemented. So because she's technical and business savvy, we're going up whenever we're trying to get her to adopt our idea and we're going to try to get her to adopt them as hers every single time she does that look each other smile because we know we want and so we would be in meetings and we would basically our presentation was to get her to go. I know what we need to do.

[00:48:01] And then she would tell us what we need to do and we all just nod smile go read idea. Yeah well oh you're brilliant and we. So that's how we would manage it like that.

[00:48:13] But often you can't win those battles with those people.

[00:48:17] And so as I would in meetings I will just say Well I think we can agree to disagree. I've got my numbers are good. I've double checked them. I know what I'm doing is accurate in my job I can say this and other people can't. I can only say I work with 200 companies and so I've seen a lot yeah.

[00:48:33] You know an average analyst doesn't have that card to play.

[00:48:36] But basically say you know when exactly it will happen when I get up and I have.

[00:48:44] And you can just agree to disagree if the other person doesn't like what you're saying.

[00:48:48] This is all so useful. You know I'm hearing understand your allies understand them as your allies try to make them your allies help them adopt it as their idea but don't try to win every battle with them especially if they are an essential ally to moving forward. Yes absolutely credible advice have been. So I called the next segment the upgrade. This is a power trip or a resource for doing our jobs of presenting data more effectively. So do you have an upgrade tip for us.

[00:49:36] I here's one.

[00:49:39] Remember I told you earlier on how I basically got I split a room of people in half and I got with the wrong half of the executive team and it basically cost me my job my arrogance cost me my job.

[00:49:52] Yes that was happening or just before that happened I was struggling. I'd been an analyst for six years and my career was going nowhere fast. At one point I overheard the CEO talking behind a partition. I was on one side of it he on the other side. He mentioned my name and he mentioned that I was really good at numbers. But that I had no business experience and I didn't know how to sell anything. And I remember I felt so miserable I was like I probably shouldn't have heard that but reality is I should've heard that man my boss the CEO had a great idea. They set me to something called Dale Carnegie Training. And so if you've ever seen those Dale Carnegie books they were written like 70 years ago.

[00:50:34] Oh yeah I’ve heard of them.

[00:50:37] So this is a training course. Eight weeks every Monday night from 6:00 to 8:00. And it was for sales people people who were professional salespeople.

[00:50:46] And so it was me and 40 salespeople and we were learning the techniques to sell ideas. They may have to sell a vacuum cleaner. I have to sell a analytics.

[00:50:57] So one of the things that was really out of this eight week training and they taught you all the different tips and psychology for how did you know people want to be loved do they want to be treated well.

[00:51:07] I learned that there was a technique where you had to get the person to say yes three times and then if you got them to say yes three times it was really hard for that person on the other end of the conversation to back out of where you were taking them.

[00:51:22] And so I had the same presentations. I had always used, I know the same style. I didn't change how I presented the information visually but I would use the slides to walk a person up to say yes and then I get to say yes again I would say yes a third time. And once I got them to say yes the third time I would then try what the class taught me and I would say well if you agreed with me this far the here is where we need to go with this idea.

[00:51:49] And it was like a bomb went off because all of a sudden the exact same presentation that he's been giving. We're now going places.

[00:51:58] I mean this is this is ultimately how I got when I talked earlier about how I set up a meeting and then that got me so that could mean the next day. This is the process that I used essentially was to get people to say yes if they said yes multiple times then here's what we need to go people went where I told them the goal. They did the marketing executive told me she was like you have put a spell on this whole the part and I was I was doing was using what I learned the sales training class. And so I would that would be my advice to anybody that if you are having a hard time with your information and you know you describe how you went through the Tiffany and then you went out and got additional training and that made a difference. I think that's that's the essence of what I'm talking about here. For me it's I have to go to sales training and I had to learn how to sell my ideas about selling vacuum cleaners. And I went from analyst to vice president and six years after being stuck as an analyst for six years. And the only thing that really changed was that class that is incredibly valuable.

[00:52:59] And you're so right. I'm a huge fan of the Dale Carnegie work. And I think that it's so true that the more that we think about that fact that we're selling our ideas and our insights and we are there to persuade and inspire not just to inform. I think that is what's going to lead to career trajectories like what you just talked about. It's amazing.

[00:53:23] Yes. So this is our last question. Think very hard here imagine this very plausible scenario. You're taking a front row seat at the World of Outlaw Sprint Car series when suddenly you trip and fall into a rip in time and it pulls you back to the moment you're about to walk into your first presentation. What would present day you say to yesterday you all present me would tell me to shut up

[00:53:54] Because I already know how arrogant I would have been and how conceited and confident that I was right and everybody who would listen to me was dumb and stupid. I mean I can already picture the meeting where I would be. I can picture who the audience is and I would I would tell that person to have to try to be humble and to have the empathy to acknowledge that they don't know all the answers to the knowledge that they may think they know everything but they may have a map there like Sheldon Cooper of the Big Bang Theory when he got to the meet Stephen Hawking.

[00:54:32] You're so confident you think you've got everything buttoned up and if you have some empathy and some compassion for your audience that's not the skills that I would hope that Kevin 30 years ago to have their minds go if the first presentation as opposed to I'm right and you're all going to love when I'm all to share with you I'm saving your life which is how I would want that meeting I can, I've walked into so many meetings like that and these meetings and audiences really have a have a way of bringing new humility like my hashtag always going in a room is hashtag humble because I just don't know when I'm going to have a teachable moment. And I don't know what I don't know.

[00:55:21] Right. So how do you balance hashtag humble with being confident.

[00:55:26] Well I mean a lot of it is the work in advance you know like you said buttoning up those numbers as best as possible not rushing through things if it's possible and feeling really confident in that I do have some mantras that I go in there with. And you know I'm curious to hear what you think about them but you know I've gone in there saying “I have been selected to present this story because I know more about this particular story the way I tell it than anyone in the room.” And it's the story that I have chosen. But it's not the only story right. No one has ownership over what the exact truth is the truth is flexible right. So I go in there saying this is what the story presented itself to me. I'm confident in what I'm sharing and I am open to other possible interpretations of what actually happened outside of the concrete observations that I'm bringing in and I'm going to be open to discussing about how to act accordingly on that. And you know there have been moments where people have pointed out an error or asked a question I didn't know the answer to. And as I grew more confident I made sure to just own the fact that I'm not Siri I can't be queried for the Wolfram Alpha answer to every single question that's on the planet. I'm not a supercomputer. And I can always get back to them later and that I'll immediately own the fact if there is an error or whatnot because the faster I own it and the more confidently I say you know what. Just for that guys. We'll double check some other stuff at the end. But you know we appreciate pointing that out. But I don't miss a beat in like oh God oh the whole thing's over career over like I don't slip into a spiral in that way like I used to. Nope, that makes good sense.

[00:57:26] It's hard that you have to come across as confident.

[00:57:30] You know confident while being humble can be a bit of a balance that can be tough to navigate. So you describe a good way of accomplishing that.

[00:57:38] Thank you. It really is a balancing act and I can't say that I've hit the nail on the head but I think that once we're self-aware that those are two ends of the spectrum that we want to keep in balance. I think that we're going to be really set up for success. I agree. Well Kevin unfortunately our time has run out. This was wonderful really valuable stuff in here so please tell the listeners where they can keep up with you.

[00:58:08] They can find me on Twitter at mine that data or you can follow my blog at

[00:58:16] Excellent. So all of those links and all the resources we've mentioned are all going to be on the show notes page for this episode.

[00:58:23] So again I want to thank you so much for taking the time to be on our show. I think that you've given a really useful way of presenters of looking at their audiences and ways to create trust and rapport and really succeed with them. So I'm grateful to you.

[00:58:43] Well I'm very happy you do what you do because these resources have been very helpful. When I was first starting in my career and would have certainly saved me a lot of problems so I'm very thankful that you go about this process and have had you know three or four dozen of these by now I mean that that's amazing. It's a great resource for analysts so thank you.

[00:59:05] I appreciate that. And amen to the resources.

[00:59:10] Thanks Kevin. All right.

[00:59:16] Wow. This was so valuable. Man I wish I had some of these strategies when I was starting out as an analyst. So I loved the stakeholder savageness quadrant so much that I've turned it into a printable cheat sheet just for you. So visit the show notes page at and you can download it for free and catch all of the other links and resources mentioned in this episode. That is going to be on my desk for ever. If you've like what you've heard please hop on over to iTunes to subscribe. Leave a rating and review ratings and reviews are so appreciated because they affect the rankings of the show which gets this information into the hands of lots of other practitioners who need it. And I'll be reading out my favorite reviews on future episodes and today's presentation

[01:00:07] Inspiration is by Jimmy Stewart screen legend. Bet you didn't see that coming. And he said Never treat your audience as customers treat them as partners.

[01:00:23] You know I bet he never thought his wisdom would apply to digital analytics data storytelling. And yet this is the fundamental philosophy I carry through all of my work as a presenter of things. Treat your audience as partners

[01:00:41] And I encourage you to carry it with you as well. That's it for today.

[01:00:47] Stay warm and wishing you had fabulous week till next time. Namaste and Now Imma go.

[01:01:03] And that's a wrap. What is going on in those brains. So that's all I'm going to say. I've turned into a monster. I mean. What. Is the typical response that I hear from people I love it.

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