Metrics: What Do You Want Your Audience to Learn?

August 3, 2020

Over the last several weeks I have discussed the importance of metrics in terms of the sustainability, relevance and impact of an organization. I explored the importance of creating a culture where data is a driving force, building an employee base that is curious and uses data to ask more and better questions. Today I would like to focus on what I believe has been a major issue in leveraging data to make a case—a poor presentation of the metrics.

Data is just a set of numbers until we take the time to analyze it and decipher what it is actually telling us. And how we present the analyzed data matters almost as much as the data itself. How many of us have received decks of PowerPoint slides filled with grids with absolutely no analysis? Slides where we have to use a magnifying glass to be able read them? A mass of numbers in a chart is not information. It is just a set of numbers. And until we take the time to sit with them, contextualize them in terms of trends or projections, ask follow-up questions and turn the data into usable information, they are mostly meaningless.

A presentation of data needs to be organized to tell a specific story to the intended audience. It needs to be sequenced to ensure that it has, like every good story, a beginning, a middle and an end. It needs to have an arc—laying the foundation and highlighting what you want the audience to remember.

Presentations that start in the middle of the story, seem to be random in how the data is laid out, and fail to lead the audience through the process and learning are rarely successful. I have observed many people work for long hours on a presentation only to miss the mark because they did not think through the process of telling the story.

There are a few things that I look for when reviewing a metrics presentation:

These are just a few of the important lessons I have learned along the way in presenting information. As always I welcome your thoughts!