13 October 2016

Communication for technical experts: #2 Explain what your data means

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Data is the lifeblood of any research, and the bedrock of credible fact-finding. Why wouldn’t everyone be interested in data? Evidence is important, right?

Further to my first blog last week (about focusing on your audience, more than on your analysis), the next point for mastering the science of communication is to focus on what your data means, more than on the data itself. 

So, the challenge becomes: how do you communicate highly complex, often technical material, to others inside or outside your organisation? Particularly those who need to understand enough to make a decision?


Start by organising your ideas around one top level idea that is supported by ideas that are organised into digestible chunks.

That top level idea should tell them what your data means, not what your data ‘is’.

For example:

Not this:
“We investigated this and then this and then this and then this … to solve Problem X.”

But this:
“Option 1 is the best way to solve Problem X.”, which leads your audience to automatically ask ‘why’?, which you can then answer.

This will help you connect with your audience as your material will focus on the issues they care about, which will likely support a decision they need to make.

If you are preparing a report from scratch, start by thinking of what the data means to your audience, and have no more than one main point, supported by no more than five subpoints.

If that sounds impossible, trust me when I tell you that when these top points are clear to you, they will also be clear to the audience.

To borrow the words of someone much wiser than I am:

“If you can’t explain it clearly then you don’t understand it well enough." - Albert Einstein

In fact, these high level points will provide you with a logical place to put the critical pieces of information needed to support each point.

When you need to present details that are automatically generated by a system, for example, your end of quarter performance, you will need to update your audience on the details of the report.

Even so, your audience will still want to hear from you how this performance will impact the coming period and decisions they will need to make.

They may want to know, for example, are these low sales seasonal or likely to continue, do we need to increase our marketing spend to compensate for low sales this quarter, do we need to fix a problem that these numbers highlight?

Answer that question, and you will be well on the way to mastering the second of three things you could do to master the science of communication (saying what the data means to your audience, and not just saying what it is).

An easy way to answer the above question is to prepare a storyline with your main observations from the data to share with your audience alongside the data itself. We shall cover that next week.

Free eBook. Read more about this topic in the eBook 'Turning Technical Experts into Effective Communicators', which you may like to download by clicking on the image below. At the back of the eBook are useful links, including a recording of the webinar I presented in collaboration with Velpic.

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About Davina Stanley. Davina is a Strategic Communication Specialist who helps executives make the complex clear and the clear compelling in their problem solving and communication. She has 20 years' experience coaching and enabling professionals to clarify and communicate complex ideas so they can get their main points across quickly (ideally within 30 seconds).