How Can You Communicate Complex Data to Non-Technical Stakeholders?


    How Can You Communicate Complex Data to Non-Technical Stakeholders?

    Communicating complex data to those outside the technical sphere is an art in itself, one that a Senior Product Manager knows all too well, starting with visuals and summaries. Alongside expert advice, we've gathered seven additional answers that distill this wisdom into practical tips for any professional. From using everyday metaphors to engaging with analogies, these insights are designed to help you tell an impactful story with your data.

    • Start with Visuals and Summaries
    • Simplify to One Key Number
    • Emphasize the 'Why' Behind Data
    • Use Everyday Metaphors
    • Provide Interactive Data Tools
    • Focus on Essential Takeaways
    • Tell a Story with Your Data
    • Use Analogies to Engage

    Start with Visuals and Summaries

    Kick off your presentation with a highly visual overview slide that uses very few words, followed by an executive summary slide using the Minto Method. If you are not familiar with the Minto Method, just search for it through your preferred search engine. Do not dive into data analysis, modeling, or deep technical details to start. Executive audiences care about business results—saving money, making money, or making customers happy.

    Joel Polanco
    Joel PolancoSenior Product Manager, Intel

    Simplify to One Key Number

    Keep it simple. As a data science manager, I've learned to always tailor communications to the specific audience.

    Non-technical stakeholders already trust the data scientists to handle the complexities of analytical rigor and statistical significance. They appreciate and respect the data scientist even more for taking the extra step to explain the business relevance in simple terms.

    For me, over the past 12 years, I’ve coached my data science teams to simplify their key headlines down to one “magic” number that’s quotable by the audience to others. The headline should also indicate whether the findings were good, bad, or prescriptive for the business. For example, “We expect a +X% increase in revenue if we do Y.” Regardless of the complexity of the behind-the-scenes data analysis, a simple headline like this example will be repeated virally throughout the company to drive action, citing the data science team.

    Jimmy Wong
    Jimmy WongEntrepreneur and Coach, AI Jimmy

    Emphasize the 'Why' Behind Data

    One gem I've learned as CEO in the tech industry is emphasizing the 'why' when sharing complex data. It's not enough to say numbers are up or down; non-technical stakeholders need to know what that means for their end game. Tailor your analysis to answer their questions before they ask: If profits have increased, how does this impact our company's goals? Direct answers wrapped with context and relevance not only simplify the data but also spark discussions that lead us to new discoveries and strategies for future success.

    Abid Salahi
    Abid SalahiCo-founder & CEO, FinlyWealth

    Use Everyday Metaphors

    When explaining technical data to individuals who are not experts in the field, it's often effective to draw upon familiar metaphors. By comparing complex concepts to everyday situations, the information becomes more relatable and easier to grasp. For instance, likening a data network to a system of highways can help non-technical audiences understand how information travels.

    This approach transforms abstract data into tangible scenarios, making it more accessible. Start using metaphors in your next discussion to see a marked improvement in comprehension.

    Provide Interactive Data Tools

    Creating interactive tools that allow users to manipulate and visualize data can be invaluable in communication. When stakeholders can personally engage with data through a simple interface, it helps demystify the information and reveals key patterns and insights. This approach not only conveys the data more clearly but also makes it a more memorable experience.

    An interactive chart or model can illuminate relationships in the data which might otherwise go unnoticed. Encourage your team to adopt interactive visualization tools in their presentations to enhance clarity and retention.

    Focus on Essential Takeaways

    When sharing complex data with non-technical people, it is advisable to distill the information down to essential takeaways. By focusing on the end results and keeping technical language to a minimum, you avoid overwhelming your audience with terms that might be confusing. Explaining what the data means for them in a straightforward manner is more effective than detailing how the data was obtained or processed.

    Tailoring the information to their needs and understanding will help maintain their interest and attention. Next time you prepare your data summary, remember to concentrate on the what rather than the how.

    Tell a Story with Your Data

    Incorporating storytelling elements can significantly boost the engagement of stakeholders when discussing multifaceted data. Framing the presentation as a narrative, with a clear beginning, middle, and end, can capture attention and make the content more memorable. This method helps contextualize data, linking it to a broader story that resonates with the audience.

    It also provides a natural flow that can guide listeners through the information without losing track. Try crafting a story around your next data set to keep your audience hooked from start to finish.

    Use Analogies to Engage

    Using analogies that align with your audience's interests can bridge the gap between complex data and their understanding. When you connect technical concepts to topics they are passionate about, it not only aids in comprehension but also increases their engagement with the material. This personalized approach shows that you have considered their perspective and tailored your communication accordingly.

    It's a subtle way of demonstrating respect for your audience, which can foster a better connection. Next time you face the challenge of explaining data, think of an analogy that will resonate with your listeners.