For a Data Presentation to Be Effective, It Must Be Actionable


Think back to your days as a student. You probablysimple-actionable-measurable found yourself, on numerous occasions, huddled over a textbook,frustrated and grumbling.

“When am I ever going to need to know this?”

For me, this was calculus. For you, maybe it was the MLA style guide, proper thesis statement construction, or chemical compounds. The point is that we couldn’t see the long-term practicality of investing in this information. Because of that, we saw no reason to absorb it enough to really learn it, and it definitely didn’t keep our interest. Rote memorization helped us to pass the test (hopefully). After that? Well, all that information sort of just slid effortlessly off of our Teflon-coated brains.

There was one thing that could potentially make a difference here: the teacher. If the teacher connected the information to something tangible, something we could identify as a practical, real world connection or application, we were more inclined to actually learn the information they were presenting to us. Hands-on experience could help us to actually start learning to use this information beyond the classroom walls.

If you’re presenting data, the situation is very much the same. Though you might be enthusiastic about your research and subject matter, it’s important to understand that just because you’re presenting it to an audience doesn’t mean that it will resonate with each person who hears or reads it. In fact, you should expect that your findings will have a different impact on everyone who hears them. Some will be inspired while others’ interest will be piqued. Some will genuinely want to understand the data, but will feel frustrated if you don’t connect it.

As someone who presents data, you have a certain set of responsibilities to those who are consuming it. For one thing, you want your data to be accurate, meaning that the tools you use to run analytics and crunch numbers should be as up-to-date and inclusive as possible.

But even more than that, you have to be able to convey that data in a way that will make sense to your audience. Everyone learns differently, so it’s important that you connect the real world applications for your data in as many ways as you need to in order to reach your audience. By sharing information, you’re providing the tools to affect change or growth. Some people might just need a crash course on using those tools before they go out and do something brilliant with them. Others might need a mere refresher.

Show some real world examples of the data in action. Provide solid numbers and concrete evidence of its importance. Make suggestions for how the data could be used. Connect it to specific industries and professions. Use visualizations. Let people know why it’s important that they have this information.

You could give people all the numbers, examples, and analytics in the world, but if you’re not connecting them to anything, it’s not going to make a bit of difference. Data must connect to be effective.

Ultimately, your ability to help your audience make those connections will determine how well your data is used, and therefore how far its reach extends. If your information isn’t actionable, it’s unfortunately not nearly as effective as it could be.

Take a look: This SlideShare presentation from HubSpot is one good example of how you could take your data and use it to demonstrate its practicality to your audience. In this presentation, HubSpot shows data – charts, stats, and so forth – and then uses that information to support certain facts. For the audience (business fields), the facts and data are rooted to the real-world issues that affect their companies, so they get a sense of why that information is important to them and how they can use it for change and growth.

120 Awesome Marketing Stats, Charts and Graphs from HubSpot All-in-one Marketing Software

What steps are you taking to help others connect your data and discover its real world applicability? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

image credit: Valens Point

About the author: Renee is a freelance writer and the managing editor for Business 2 Community. She currently resides in Central Pennsylvania (whatever you’ve heard is probably true) and continues to pursue her dream of once again renting her own apartment – preferably in Philadelphia – if only to house her ever-growing collection of books. She received a BA in English from Susquehanna University and an MA in English from George Mason.