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Storytelling Tip: Know Your Audience



Ryan Sleeper

Connect with your audience to improve the chance of action

It doesn’t matter how good your data visualization is, how reliable your data sources are, or how much technical know-how you have – if what you are doing doesn’t connect with your audience so they understand it and can take action.

Hi. This is Ryan with Playfair Data TV. In this video, I want you to imagine a scenario. Let’s say you go into the office on a Monday morning, you go to the water cooler or buddy’s cubicle and you say, ‘Hey, I heard this really cool story over the weekend’, and you proceed to tell them the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Poor Charlie, he’s trying to find the Golden Ticket so that he can win that tour of the chocolate factory.

You likely would get some raised eyebrows from your colleague. They’d want to make sure– probably ask you, ‘Are you all right?’ If that was your boss you’re telling that to, they might send you home early that day. The reason that you get those raised eyebrows is the story you’re sharing doesn’t fit the audience that you’re sharing it with.

The same happens in reverse, too. Let’s say that you went home after work, you had dinner with the family, and you tell your five-year-old about how you’re meeting your Q4 objectives and what your progress to goal is. They probably aren’t going to be that interested or understand that deep level of the business. The story has to connect with the audience and what they know.

The same is true within the practice of data visualization. You have to realize that everyone is on different ends of the spectrum when it comes to how sophisticated they are with their analytics. We’ve got this tip on the storytelling track– know your audience, that’s what we’re talking about now– but you’re going to see that this is a common theme throughout the Strategy track as well as the Storytelling track at Playfair Data TV. This truly does trump everything else.

As it pertains to storytelling, the things that I’m trying to figure out about my audience before I proceed to use the other storytelling tips that I’ll be sharing here on this track, I want to know things like are they stuck in a spreadsheet mentality? I might need to educate them on the benefits of pre-attentive attributes and data visualization. Do they love pie charts or packed bubbles or chart types that I would consider less effective? I need to know that. No matter how funny it is and how ever further we’ve progressed past certain chart types, it’s very critical for me to know what types of charts are going to resonate with my end user before I proceed.

Another example that I love is from an old Southwest Airlines commercial. I don’t know if anybody else remembers this one, but there was a band performing, they’re up on stage, and they get to the end of their show, and one of the performers yells out, “Thank you, Detroit. We love you!” And his buddy, the other performer, turns to him and says, “Detroit was last night.” And the crowd’s booing in the background. They completely lost the audience.

It’s another example that is relevant for this practice of data visualization. It’s not enough if I’m working with a stakeholder that loves spreadsheets, loves pie charts, and I go in and say here’s a box and whisker plot. Yes, it might be a more effective chart type, but if it doesn’t resonate with the audience, if it’s something that’s so far outside of what they’re accustomed to that they’re not able to connect with it, it doesn’t matter how good my chart is. It’s not going to cause any type of action within the organization.

So this will be an important concept throughout. I just want to remind you one more time here on the Storytelling track, give you this tip to know your audience.

This has been Ryan with Playfair Data TV – thanks for watching!