- When you're telling a story one of the biggest challenges you'll have is knowing your audience. Each person in the audience will have their own world view. They'll be listening to your story with a whole set of beliefs and assumptions. Your audience will be looking for something interesting. That's why they're there. They might not be able to describe it but they'll respond to it when they hear it. I once worked for a national political campaign. The campaign was trying to use technology to better understand their voters.
A few months into the campaign our candidate was speaking to an audience that lost many jobs over several decades. He stood in the red skeleton of an old industrial building and talked about new job training. He told a story about how each person can benefit from high-tech skills. The audience clapped but didn't really connect with what he was saying. A few days later the opposing candidate went to a similar setting. His speech was in an old abandoned warehouse next to a lazy brown river.
He started out the story by saying I know many of you are uncertain. You're not sure that your way of life has a future. Then he went through a short story about how to preserve the things that are important. At the end of the story the glassy-eyed audience clapped until the candidate left the stage. Our candidate didn't understand the audience. He couldn't connect with them on an emotional level. Once the opposing candidate spoke to them on that level then they were able to connect with the story.
Political campaigns are certainly different from what you present as part of your data science team. Yet the principle still applies. The more you know your audience then the more effective you'll be in telling your story. One of the best ways to do that is by using a technique called warming the room. This is when your walk around and chitchat with some of the people who'll be in your audience. Some of them will tell you directly what they're looking for. You might hear comments such as I'm curious to see how this connects to what I'm working on.
Then you can ask her, what are you working on? If that happens then you might want to adapt your stories in real time to meet your audience's expectation. You can typically think of your audiences being broken up into five different types. There's your observers, gatekeepers, managers, experts, and executives. Each of these different types of audience members will have their own needs and expectations. The observer is just someone who showed up.
It was in their calendar and that's why they're there. They're not very aware of the topic and they have minimal expectations. There's not much you can do to connect to this person. Just try to keep your stories interesting and limit your acronyms or technical jargon. The second audience type is the gatekeeper. They'll be there to see how you're insights might impact their work. This is a good example of the people you'll find when you warm up the room. If you use an example in your story then you'll want to directly connect it up with someone in their department.
That way they can make an explicit connection. The managers in your audience will be very interested in interdependencies. Again, you can use examples to show departments working together. You can also create explicit action items at the end of your story. This audience group will be the ones who ask follow-up questions. The experts in your audience will always push for greater detail. If you're not careful they might derail your story and make it less interesting. When they do that, just be sure to explain the new details so that the rest of the audience doesn't lose interest.
Finally, the executives in your audience will want to find answers to larger questions. It's always a good sign if at the end of your story the executive asks a question such as, how do you see the impact of this on the rest of the organization? If you have executives in the audience then you'll want to make sure that you don't show too many slides. Chances are if they're staring at your slides they're not listening to what you're saying. If you work hard to identify your audience and understand their interests then there's a better chance that they'll connect with your story.
If you break your audience into these types then you'll have a better chance of meeting their expectations.
- List the five threads your team should focus on when spinning a yarn.
- Explain the benefits of using scenarios as story helpers.
- Explore how using conflict in a story can captivate your audience.
- Determine how details will enhance a story and make it memorable.
- Recall the downfalls of using too many visualizations.
- Define vision in the context of data-science storytelling.
- Recognize the features of good storytelling.