telling the story or how to avoid death by powerpoint

It’s Friday so you are probably busy pulling together next week’s “Weekly” Report, lots of charts, stats and a few graphs that show (hopefully) that marketing is going up and to the right and that your campaigns are generating interest and more importantly revenue.  You now  feel like your job is done, right? Not quite.  As the harbinger of useful information your job isn’t just to make sure the information gets to someone else’s hands but also to make sure they know what they are seeing.

This past week my college, Scott Rankin, wrote a very good post on how to effectively design dashboards.  It’s a very easy to read, actionable list of a few key things to think about as you build your reports.  Things like, only include information relevant to your audience, provide strategic information and clear insight.  Sounds easy right?  At this point you might have those things that speak to your executives distilled and you probably have the charts and graphs built exactly as they want them but there is more to your report than the pictures.

It is our jobs (in the analyst/marketing operations roles) to tell the story.  I know I naturally was drawn to more operational roles because I don’t consider myself a content person but part of personal growth is finding those limitations and working toward fixing them.  People remember stories, not necessarily data points.  So what about your charts and graphs tells a good story and how is that relevant to the people getting an inbox full of charts and graphs?

First, let’s think back to elementary school, when you would write a story it had a beginning, a middle and an end.  You didn’t just throw a character on the page and have a final outcome, you had to develop the story a little bit.  Start off by giving key highlights, tell a good story with the data, don’t just show the data.   The marketing operations guru who can tell the narrative of the campaign, it’s execution and final results in an engaging way will help drive home the important message instead of just cramming data into an inbox.

Stories have a cause-and-effect relationship. In the book, “Elements of Persuasion,” Richard Maxwell and Robert Dickman define the elements of a good story as:
•    The passion with which the story is told
•    A hero to drive the action
•    An obstacle or an antagonist to challenge the hero
•    A moment of awareness where the hero realizes how he can overcome the obstacle
•    A transformation in the hero and the world around him

It is definitely not simple to take the elements of your dashboard and find a compelling story to delver every time, don’t think of this as a weekly exercise but more a monthly or quarterly one.  It important to show the passion behind the work that you and your teammates do.  Instilling passion in your story will illustrate the consequences to the events described and show your executives relevance of what is being done.  Illustrate how the tactics being used overcome a challenge for the company and what surpassing that challenge means for the whole.  Remember to ask yourself, what is the story here every time you prepare reports and decks so you aren’t creating Death by Powerpoint for the poor soul who has to read what you are creating.