Puneet Gaur is a global executive, author and speaker. He currently works as COO of an AI-based B2B company, prediction.
Imagine having tickets to see the latest blockbuster at the cinema. You sit down and the lights dim… but what flickers across the screen isn’t a finished movie yet. Instead, it’s a hodgepodge of disjointed clips that you expect to piece them together and somehow decipher the plot.
This is how executives feel when they receive hundreds of pages of charts and numbers that contain relevant data but don’t tell a cohesive story. Analytics teams often want leaders to figure out the story for themselves, but this is a major annoyance to me and many other senior executives. We don’t have the time or attention span to dig through a stack of charts and discover the plot. To get your message across, you need to tell a concise and compelling story.
Tell a better story with Analytics
In my role as COO I mainly focus on growth and operations within my company, but I also have a background in filmmaking: writing, shooting and editing documentaries. One day I realized that successful storytelling is based on the same fundamental concepts, whether you’re making a movie or explaining business analytics. You need a tight script with a clear goal.
Here are six key lessons from moviemaking that you can use to tell a more compelling story with your analytics:
1. Start with the end
Lead with the end results. Are they good or bad? What’s the big takeaway? I often ask my own analytics team at the beginning of a meeting: what’s the story here? Should I be happy or sad? If it’s a happy story, what are the main highlights? If it’s a sad story, how much heartbreak should I prepare for?
2. Develop your characters
Determine who is the hero and who is the villain in your story. Who performs best, in terms of business units, regions or people? Who are the worst performers? What is the main character of your story trying to achieve and what are the challenges they face?
3. Focus on change
Be open to what will happen in the next chapter of your story. Can the hero inspire the villain to change? What lessons can you draw from positive developments to improve weaker results? Can you learn from the best performers to drive change in underperforming businesses or regions? What short-term and long-term actions can you take to solve problems?
4. Clarify the Basics
When in doubt, go back to the basics of storytelling. Answer the “5 Ws”: who, what, where, when and why (bonus points if you add a sixth question: how). Who are the main characters? What is the story about? Where do these results happen? When will the action take place? Why are you getting this result? How can you achieve your ultimate goals?
5. Use visual cues
A film conveys subtle messages with the visual choices it makes. For example, scenes featuring the hero often use bright colors and lighting, while scenes featuring the villain have a darker palette. Colors in charts or presentations are equally important; use consistent patterns that your audience will understand at a glance. A positive result should be green, a negative result or hole should be red, and a mid-range data point should be orange.
6. Don’t Overwhelm Your Audience
Throwing too many characters or plot developments into one scene will make your audience get lost and not know what to focus on. A good rule of thumb is that the most intense scenes should have no more than two or three characters. Likewise, for any chart or slide you present, you should not include more than two or three elements. Make it easy for your audience to follow your story, even as they quickly scroll through slides or zoom in and out on a presentation.
Analytics should not be a boring collection of facts and figures. Whether you’re sparking investor interest in a startup or presenting progress reports at a quarterly board meeting, learn to tell a compelling story with your analytics. Take your audience on a journey and you’ll keep them glued to their seats.