Storytelling Insights

  • Esther Choy

What Do I Want to Leave with Them?: Big Data for a General Audience



“What do I want to leave with them?” That is the question Vinodh Balaraman, a principal and senior partner at ZS Associates found himself asking as he prepared to give a talk at the world’s largest hospitality technology conference. The topic for his talk was complex: “Maximizing the Impact of Customer Reviews and Ratings Sentiment Analysis for Hoteliers.” He had developed a platform that could make sense of unstructured customer feedback from TripAdvisor, Yelp, Twitter, Facebook, customer surveys and other sources of Electronic Word-Of-Mouth (e-WOM)s. This platform could show hoteliers concrete ways to use the data to strengthen brand equity, improve their customer experience and increase their profit margin. But he had just ten minutes to persuade his audience to use this platform. He knew he should prepare for a general audience of hoteliers. His audience might be hotel marketers, or the managers of a hotel’s brand, revenue, or property. How could he make sure his session was relevant and easily accessible to anyone who decided to attend? ZS Associates had made a significant investment in this conference, hoping the talk could “attract attention to their thought leadership in this area,” says Vinodh, adding that he wanted to catch the audience’s attention so much that people wanted to see a demo of the ZS data analytics platform after his talk. When he began working on the presentation, he started out with 32 potential PowerPoint slides, all of them packed with data. With just ten minutes to present, it was either zip through the slides talking as fast as the Micro Machines man or try to distill the information to its essentials. So he worked with Leadership Story Lab to come up with a storyline. We helped him select a specific hotelier he had gone to visit, which then allowed him and his team to show how sentiment analysis benefited this particular company. In a specific way, the story answered the question of how hoteliers go about using sentiment analysis. The basic story arc was simple:

  1. What is the problem Vinodh’s audiences face?

  2. Why should they listen to him?

  3. How will ZS’s approach and platform help in their specific case?

Once the storyline was in place, Vinodh asked himself, “What do I want to leave with them?” Once he knew what he wanted his audience to walk away thinking about, he asked himself, “What does this translate to slide-by-slide?” With this clear focus on the storyline and the main impression he wanted the audience to receive, he was able to whittle 32 potential slides down to 18. And those 18 remaining slides clearly displayed the story arc, de-cluttered the data, and presented visual information with more punch. “Each slide goes [with] the story,” says Vinodh. After coming up with the story and the slides, Vinodh wrote and practiced his talk. He got feedback on when to speed up and slow down, and how to include engaging questions throughout his talk, so that the audience was not only listening but also interacting. His hard work and ZS Associates’ investment paid off, connecting them with some important leads. If you find yourself faced with presenting complex information to a general audience, Vinodh recommends that you:

  1. Simplify the message until you know exactly what you hope to leave the audience thinking about.

  2. Avoid dense slides.

  3. Use the graphics to highlight the topic, not distract from it. For his presentation, he worked with ZS’ creative team to draw attention to the most important points on each graph and chart. The animation grayed out parts of the charts that were irrelevant and made the relevant data pop.

  4. “Work on the storyline—get the flow,” and then “use the slides to support your voice.”

So often, we think data speaks for itself and the more data in our presentations the better we’ll persuade our audience. But big data needs big stories, because, in the end, your audience will only remember the data if it’s presented in a memorable storyline. So ask what you want to leave them with—and frame that message in a well-told story. If you have an assignment that requires you to communicate big data to a general audience, drop us a line! We’d be glad to arrange a complimentary consultation session! And sign up for our Monthly Guide to Better Storytelling. It’s packed with information on free events, tips and coaching sessions. Photo credit: Audience by Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung via creativecommons.org


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