Companies are investing a great deal of time and money into data analysis to drive better decision making. Yet, data analysts sometimes find themselves frustrated by their inability to persuade others with regard to a particular conclusion. The bottom line is that we can say that we are fact-based or evidence-based decision makers, but we don't always respond to arguments rooted in data alone. Stories tend to be much more compelling than numbers, statistics, and bullet points. Nancy Duarte makes this point in a short post for Sloan Management Review. She writes:
If it’s your role to communicate data insights and persuade people to change their behavior, you’ll have more influence and promote better decision-making if you emphasize the people behind the numbers. In a story, we root for the hero as he or she maneuvers through roadblocks. To use data to steer your organization in the right direction, you need to tap into the human tale your data can tell.
Duarte argues that four storytelling techniques can be quite effective:
- Identify the Hero - Whose actions produce the data being analyzed? Who has the power to improve the situation?
- Empathize with the Heroes - Speak with them directly. Try to stand in their shoes and understand their point of view.
- Identify the Adversary - What is the source of conflict in this story? Who or what is standing in the way of our hero?
- Share Context - Provide the bigger picture. Put the current data in the context of a lengthier timeline of events.
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