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How to Present Data and Make It Resonate

Posted 3 December 2013 12:00 AM by Kelly Morgan

Over the last five weeks, a few colleagues and I have started a lunch book club focused on Nancy Duarte’s Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences (Resonate). Going into this book, I half expected to be learning how to present at a conference or sell a big idea to a large group of people (which Resonate definitely does teach you). But I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well Duarte’s advice also applies to presenting data and reporting, which is the bulk of my work here at Engauge. 


 We are only halfway into Resonate and Duarte has already hit on several points that can actively be applied to presenting “the numbers.” A few of my favorites are:

  Facts Alone Fall Short: “Navigating between fact, then story, then fact, then story creates interest and a pulse.”

As analysts, we’re always going to have data or facts, but a key differentiator for analysis is the story. We need to convey an emotional need for our clients in order to evoke change. Without helping a client understand why an activation should be optimized, it’s hard to get the backing to make that change. This is why we often have similar recommendations month over month.

You Are Not the Hero

Duarte spends an entire chapter talking about one’s audience. Presentations are not for “me-ness.” Analysts and marketers need to fully understand their current stakeholders. If your audience doesn’t grasp or believe in your recommendations, then nothing will change. If my data isn’t presented in a way that my clients can comprehend, how are they going to communicate why we need to evoke change in their business?

The Presentation Form (aka Duarte’s “Sparkline”): “An audience will stay engaged as you unwrap ideas and perspectives frequently.”

Duarte’s TED Talk walks us through the structure — what she calls the “Sparkline” — of all great presentations/speeches throughout history. This form has a clear beginning, middle and end, with two turning points that help to define the beginning and end while outlining “what is” and “what could be.” This is exactly how data should be presented.

I use data to demonstrate “what is” currently happening and then directly tie recommendations to share “what could be.” As I move through my presentations, I’m constantly sharing an insight and a recommendation while, of course, peppering in stories and anecdotes along the way.

Call to Action: “Many presentations will end with the call to action; however, ending a presentation with a to-do list for the audience is not inspirational.”

Ideally, all data presentations will drive our clients to implement our recommendations — in a perfect world, right? But we know that’s not always realistic. It’s very easy, especially with quick campaigns or content snapshots, to fall into this “to-do list” type of takeaway. Much to Duarte’s point, it is imperative that we give a clear call to action that paints a vivid, compelling picture of “what could be” to help drive that action forward.

Duarte’s Resonate has helped me to realize that little steps can make a huge impact in marketing optimization. Moving forward, I’m going to make sure that I’m following Duarte’s “Sparkline” as I present the data, and that I am creating an emotional response with a clear call to action for my clients. 

What are the biggest obstacles you face with data presentation? Or how can this be applied to your presentations? 

  “Reports should be distributed; presentations should be presented.” – Nancy Duarte, Resonate

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