Data Persuasion with BI: Top 5 Reasons Your Last Presentation was a FAIL

Unfortunately, life is hard and in BI world we are guaranteed to fail with our Data Persuasion every now and then. Having failed with my BI presentations many a time, I decided to write this article and frame up my top five reasons why I did and also suggest a few things for what you can do to fail less often.

My top 5 reasons for why your last presentation was a FAIL are the following:

  1. The presentation had Bad Pitch Dynamics
  2. The presentation did not satisfy the “3 I’s Postulate”
  3. You tried to sell Pushpins to Thor
  4. Your relied on Experts too much
  5. You oversold and overstimulated

#1 – Pitch Dynamics

In my experience there are two ways to tell your story. The European Style and the American Style.

The structure/dynamics of these styles can be seen below:

  1. The European Style
    1. Big Build up
    2. Dramatic Reveal or Punch Line
  2. American Style
    1. Tell me what you are about to tell me
    2. Tell me
    3. Tell me what you just told me

If you have an amazing and dramatic reveal/punch line, then you can shoot for the European style presentation; however, if your audience does not perceive your punch line as dramatic enough, your presentation will most likely fail.

I recommend a more conservative but more reliable American Style, where you get to the good stuff as quickly as possible and then you spend the rest of the presentation peeling the onion and talking about the next steps.

#2 – The 3 I’s Postulate

The data presentation is not inherently persuasive if it does not meet the following three requirements – the presentation has to be:

  • Intuitive
  • Insightful
  • Impelling

I have covered this in my video/article on Basic Concepts and Definitions of Data Persuasion.

Intuitive – Assuming some familiarity that the intended audience has with the subject of the presentation, the presentation must not contradict with this intuition.

Insightful – Your data presentation must be intellectually stimulating, which means that they must:

  1. Show relationship between cause and effect
  2. Uncover unusual relationships between entities/metrics
  3. Show contradiction with intuition

Impelling – Your data presentation from its inception must have an objective of persuasion.

#3 – Do not sell Pushpins to Thor

Thor wields a mighty hammer. Given his tool of choice, he is looking for a particular type of a problem that he can solve efficiently, therefore, he will probably not be interested in your pushpins.

You have to understand grain of authority and the time window of interest of your audience on a “Worker Bee to Executives” continuum:

  1. Executives:
    1. Grain of Authority:
      1. Wield sledgehammers
      2. Hate intricate details
    2. Time window of interest
      1. Do I need to do something right now or is it a good idea in general
  2. Worker Bees:
    1. Grain of Authority:
      1. All about details
    2. Time window of interest
      1. What is in it for me? Why should I do anything right now?

#4 – Do not over-rely on Experts

The Expert Paradox:

For every expert who is advising you to go right, there will always be an equally qualified expert who will advise you to go left.

We all have gotten really bad advice from experts at some point of our lives, after all, there is a reason why “Ask for the second opinion” is a thing. Generally speaking, “Experts Say…” is the weakest way to establish credibility for your pitch because our intuition often tells us to be very critical of experts particularly when the experts have something to gain from the advice that they so generously dispense.

A much more impactful way to get the audience on your side is to explain to your audience why you personally decided to assume this particular point of view. What were your arguments for and against it, as you were making up your mind about the topic you are pitching, and how strongly you feel about it and why. Your audience is more likely to have some affinity with your and your conviction rather than blindly trusting some cherry-picked expert.

#5 – Stop Overselling and Overstimulate

It is very important to understand the critical mass of supporters that you need to get on your side to pitch successfully. The goal should be to convert the Negatives to Neutrals and to have a handful of supporters who are on your side. Do not waste your time trying to convert Negatives into Positives. Negatives will become defensive and start asking questions which means that you will lose a structure to your presentation.

Questions about the next steps are good. Questions about the validity of your pitch are bad.

As soon as your audience is ready, stop selling and go into the next steps or the solutioning conversation.

#5+1 – Please don’t MANIPULATE your audience

Unfortunately, your audience is very likely to come to the meeting with an expectation that there will be some manipulation involved. Equally unfortunately, the audience is likely to be highly skilled in picking up on manipulative techniques used in your pitch. Therefore, the more seasoned and experience your audience, the more you have to pay attention to not be perceived as being manipulative. Which means that you :

  • Must not rely on metrics with misleading or contextual definitions
  • Must not withhold insight that conflicts with or contradicts with the persuasion objective
  • Must have adequate levels of details and scale
  • Must provide relevant time range and context
  • Must compare local and global contexts when possible

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