brandon mathias blog

Communicating Complexity: Lessons Learned in Sharing Analytics

Analytics professionals have superpowers in generalizing. We even describe how well a particular model is working by evaluating how well it “generalizes” to new data. Despite that special skill, I won’t make a sweeping generalization about all analysts, I’ll only speak for myself. Here it is: I find presenting results to be personally challenging and stressful. It has taken a lot of practice to get better and frankly, fight the nerves when it comes to talking about what I do.

So, I want to use my space here to list some strategies I have found to be helpful when it comes to sharing sometimes complex analyses to interested stakeholders should other analysts feel the same way.

First, start with the problem and answer before explaining how you got there. I know it sounds simple but beginning with the answer helps set the context for your audience. It’s what the stakeholder really cares about. Treat the methodology as supporting detail and lending of credibility to the answer, but don’t make it the focus of your presentation. As analysts, we have spent years learning the tools and methods, so it’s tempting to want to share the fine details, but sometimes it can serve to distract from what is actually important.

Second, be a meticulous data visualizer. Data visualization is our greatest tool for communicating results. Spend the time to make every graph’s intent is immediately obvious to the audience. Begin with the basics: label your axes, start at zero, you know the drill. But more than that, step back and truthfully ask yourself, can someone look at this graph and understand it? Clarity must be the first priority.

Finally, prepare for the intended audience. Are you sharing your results with other analysts, or non-expert stakeholders? If you know the audience is going to include other analysts, you will want to include more detail about the methods you chose. I’ve gone so far as to share code snippets with other analysts, so they get a better feel for the process. If you are sharing with non-expert stakeholders, focus on the answer and explain through visualization. And, lastly, when sharing with executives, put the details in an appendix and delete the appendix.

If you are like me and find presenting analysis difficult, know that practice will help, but reflection will help even more. After presenting, take personal notes on what worked and what didn’t and adapt accordingly. Before long, you’ll have a new superpower.