We’ve all read that in our digital world where we are constantly bombarded by various advertising, social media, and other messages that our attention span has been decreasing. Marketers tell us that the average person’s attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to less than 8 seconds today – which is shorter than the attention span of a goldfish.
When we present data to senior managers we also need to realise that they are not exempt from this. The typical work life of a senior manager consists of constant meetings covering a wide range of topic areas. They also live in our digital world full of social media channels and digital messages throughout the day.
Securing a meeting with a senior manager is not easy and within a short period of time we need to make significant impact, ensuring that the messages that we are bringing are memorable and at the centre of attention. How do we do this?
1. Use data visualization
People remember visual imagery. Visual data is more memorable than a list of facts. If time permits, work on an infographic, a colourful diagram, or chart to convey the information. The key is to keep the information simple and easy to understand. An overwhelming collection of all types of data makes it hard for the audience to focus and may lead to confusion. We’ve all worked with senior managers who start diving into nitty-gritty details when they are confused. Not a good scenario to be in.
Here’s an example of a bubble diagram that shows the extent of the impact of each initiative.
2. Avoiding psychological bias
One of the critical aspects of getting cut-through in presenting data is being aware of any psychological biases. For example, most projects use traffic light colours as indication of project status. Red indicates warning, amber indicates caution, and green represents all’s good. As a result, if we are presenting change heatmaps using the same colour schemes we are subjecting the user to the same psychological interpretation. This means the user will most likely interpret red as ‘bad’ subconsciously. However, red in a heatmap may not always mean ‘bad’ since it simply indicates there is a lot of change. Perhaps there is a lot of good change? Or that the volume of change is needed to achieve the business goals? Removing this type of psychological bias in choosing effective colour schemes is critical.
Here is an example of a change heat map from The Change Compass, using different shades of blue instead of traffic light colours.
3. Tailoring the level of detail to the audience
Knowing what level of information to present is another critical ingredient to a high impact outcome when presenting to senior managers. If in doubt, focus on no more than 3 key messages per meeting. This means the data you are presenting needs to be quite targeted and focused, structured around supporting the messages you would like to convey. If you are presenting slides, aim for no more than a few slides to keep the message focused and crisp. Ideally, aim to generate discussion during the meeting versus just a series of facts.
4. Story telling using data
The data you are presenting should tell a story of the changes that are happening. Your change story needs to be backed up by data versus just hunches when working with senior leaders.
Key stories you may want to formulate and call out could be:
- The pace of change is becoming faster
- The volume change is increasing/decreasing
- Capacity risks in certain parts of the business are emerging
- The scheduled changes in the plan are aligned/not aligned with the overall strategy
- The same customer segment is impacted by multiple initiatives within a set period of time
- We have exceeded the change saturation point for one part of the business thereby impacting business performance
5. Use eye catching visuals to increase memorability
In most corporate settings people tend to use the same ways of presenting data. Pie charts, bar charts, scatter plots, etc. To make your message stand out, try something different. For example, use different colour schemes, different types of charts, or different lay out to gain attention and memorability.
Here is an example of a chart that shows the extent to which each company strategy impacts different divisions, and the various initiatives in concern.