Guidelines for Sharing Analytical Insights

One of the most interesting and valuable aspects of my job as an analytics practitioner involves sharing analytical insights with people throughout my company. My audience spans the gamut from interns all the way to C-level executives. As a manager and mentor, I often coach analysts on the presentations they’ll deliver to business stakeholders. Here’s what I recommend:

Limit the emphasis on data collection. It’s a given. Our business leaders expect us to collect data. They don’t want deep details on instrumentation, they just want to see results. What’s the worst?  Offering up conclusions in an analytical presentation, and stating that the next steps involve collecting more data. Of course, but to what end?!  In any analytical presentation worthy of executive attention, discussion of instrumentation should be relegated to the footnotes.

Don’t draw attention to dashboards. Here’s my pet peeve analytical presentation, done as a voiceover: « This is the speed dial, and this is the pie chart, and if you hover over this thermometer you get a tooltip. » Who cares! What insight were you able to gain as a result of the dashboard? What burning questions were you able to answer? Tell us about that instead.  Well-designed dashboards fade into the background so the data consumers can focus on insights – not the animated drop shadow 3D pie charts.

Mix the bad news with the good news. It will make the message more believable. Analysts naturally love to showcase positive results, but there’s often more to the story. I’ve actually seen executives ASK outright for the bad news. In order for analysts to live up to our potential as trusted business advisors, we must give a well-rounded report of what we’re seeing – even the negative components.

Rehearse. Analysts love to critique presentations from colleagues, but that type of discussion should occur in the backchannel, not in front of executives. That’s why, at my company, we’ve arranged a pair of weekly meetings: the first is a dress rehearsal where analysts can critique freely as peers, and the second is showtime for business stakeholders. The rehearsal lets us banter, correct errors and talk shop. During the final show, the analysts in the audience remain intentionally quiet and the business stakeholders ask questions – as it should be.

Pair business stakeholders with analysts. Analysts don’t work in a vacuum. Rather, we hold shared responsibility with the businesspeople we serve. In many analytical presentations given at my company, we’ll list the business stakeholder alongside the analyst in order to highlight that shared ownership. All presentation material we create gets vetted by business owners prior to broader consumption. When conclusions do get shared, the analyst may do most of the talking, but the business partner is there in the room to soak up the reaction and answer questions. It’s a little extra effort, but that kind of joint ownership definitely gives data-driven recommendations more weight.

If you are an analyst or manager of analysts, I challenge you to follow these guidelines. If you are an executive at the receiving end of analytical presentations, expect your analysts to rise to the occasion.