We have all been on the receiving end of bad presentations. Slide decks with too much text, cluttered data visualizations and presenters who read from notes without eye contact. Far too often, the data that we clean, analyze and visualize fails to create a lasting impact due to a lackluster presentation to relevant stakeholders.
In response to this persistent challenge, Cole Knaflic’s new book Storytelling with You provides a detailed roadmap for how to plan, create and deliver stellar presentations. Broken into three parts, the book begins with the planning process, with a particular focus on tailoring the presentation to our target audience and identifying the critical storyline. The second part dives into the creation of presentation slides with the inclusion of written and visual content. The final part highlights the actual presentation delivery with insightful tips and tricks on how to be an effective presenter.
Presenting effectively often requires a paradigm shift. After spending weeks or months deep in the weeds on a data project, it is most natural to design a presentation that mirrors the process that we took, from hypothesis testing, to methodology and findings. Storytelling with You challenges this traditional approach and encourages presenters to reflect on their audience’s needs, interests and frame of reference. How might we align the data-informed insights that we are presenting with decision points that our audience is considering?
Another key point from the planning process that Cole Knaflic highlights is the importance of ordering our presentations into a storytelling structure. The three key elements of plot, twist and ending serve as the foundation for any good story and should similarly underpin our presentations. Through the use of instructive worksheets and case studies, Cole provides readers with detailed instruction on how to make this paradigm shift towards audience-centric storytelling presentations.
For the creation process, we often assume that when we create and showcase our data visualizations, the insights will naturally appear to the audience who will interpret the data in the same way as we intended. Storytelling With You challenges this assumption and encourages its readers to explicitly identify the insights from the data using words. Intentionally weaving together data-informed insights into a narrative maximizes our chances of creating lasting impact from our presentations.
The book concludes with recommendations on how to improve our presentation skills through the delivery process. Carefully planned presentations with beautifully curated content can still fail to achieve their desired impact if the delivery of the presentation falls short. Two practical tips that Cole expounds on in this section are the importance of regular practice and confidence building.
Effective presentations allow us to share data-driven insights with relevant stakeholders that drives change and creates lasting impact. Storytelling with You is a must-read for anyone interested in improving the way in which they communicate information, engage with their audience, and use data to tell compelling stories.
Joshua works on the Urban Innovation team at the National League of Cities (NLC) where he leads the organization’s data visualization portfolio. He specializes in leveraging data to inform local policymaking and in amplifying best practices through data storytelling. Based in Cincinnati OH, he is an electric bike enthusiast and passionate advocate for active transportation.