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So your audience understands you better

I have come across multiple public posts about the value and importance of data in the context of business analysis and decision-making lately. Some saying that data tells stories. Others stating that without data, one’s statements are just opinions, and this possibly having a negative connotation, or at least a less valuable result.

I am taken back to a time when I was leading the Intelligence Best Practices Consulting function for a boutique market intelligence consulting firm. I would facilitate workshops, teaching corporations how to enhance their research and analysis reports. I found that those who were trained as professional researchers often tended to answer a business question with a long list of research findings and references, leaving their audience to either ignore the impossible long list of facts, or read and filter through it to come to their own conclusions; and those who were trained in business strategy would often tend to jump straight to the conclusion (“The business should take this action, now”), leaving their audience wondering how they came to that conclusion, and what it was based on.

The suggestion we promoted was to have their reports start with the recommended conclusion, and then tell a story of how the business was to get from today to that conclusion. I also suggested labeling any statements or sections of the report as Facts, Analysis, Opinions, Recommendations, etc.

It is too common is regular speech, in writing, and especially on social media, for individuals to skip steps in their stories, and leave the reader to make leaps of faith, or alternatively, lose them all together. An option to avoid this scenario is to narrate. You can tell your audience what you’re going to be telling them about, how you have structured it, what the various components or premises of your arguments are, and how you arrived at your conclusion. They will then sit through the story of what you have described, and at the end they can still choose to agree or disagree or ask questions, but you are not asking them to take any leaps of faith. You’re not saying, “it’s obvious!” or “just think about it!” rather you are saying “I came to this conclusion by collecting these facts, performing this analysis, adding my own opinions here and here, resulting in this recommended action.” Then you leave it to them to take the variables they agree with and perform their own equation, and test your hypothesis. You invite them to engage with you on a topic which you know something about. And in the end, even if they don’t choose your recommendation, you will still have added value to their process, for they will feel more solid about the conclusion they arrived at.

Facts: data points collected through exhaustive research and referenced

Analysis: manipulation of the data in order to understand trends, stories, direction, hidden meaning, etc.

Opinions: statements added to the analysis or facts that come only from the consultant

Recommendations: what you conclude about the combination of facts, analyses, opinions

So is data all you need? No.

Can you proceed without data? No.

Data is a necessary component in the equation that can enable a business to perform its decision-making process.

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