Telling a Story with Data

By Kelly McGuire Vice President, Advanced Analytics, Wyndham Destination Network | January 05, 2014

As analytics become more accepted, more visible and more desired across hospitality organizations, analysts and IT departments are challenged to deliver data to a wider range of personas. In this information-hungry atmosphere, the key to gaining support and inspiring action across the organization is the ability to "tell a story" with the data. It's not just about presenting rows and rows of data, or charts of results, but rather, using that data to support the story you want to tell – in a highly visual and accessible format.

Revenue managers have always been challenged with interpreting their data to the "layperson" outside revenue management. By focusing first on the action, then the story, then on the supporting points, revenue managers, or any hotelier, will find their presentations becoming more compelling, and their requests granted more often! It is very tempting to present slide after slide of charts and graphs, but often a single visualization that drives home a key point and results in a desired action is much more powerful. You know you'll be able to produce the backup information if it's needed, but you'll provide a memorable takeaway, and most importantly, make it really easy for your audience to repeat your story to their key constituents, adding to the power and reach of your message.

Focus On the Audience and the Action

It may sound obvious, but be sure before you put together any presentation that you know who the audience is and understand their expectations. Your material must be tuned to the audience from the content, to the language you use, to the takeaways you develop. Secondly, you need to think about the format that you are presenting in. Will this be in a room or via conference call? How big is the screen? Do you expect questions or discussion? There is nothing worse than watching a presentation with complicated and wordy slides on a teeny-tiny screen from the back of the room (frankly, in my opinion, there is no excuse for giving a presentation that has such complicated visuals, if they have to be that complex, it's not a presentation, it's a report – more on that later). Being prepared on these basics will make you look much more professional.

The most effective presentations are those that inspire an action from the audience. Whether it's approving a request, giving the go-ahead to move forward, adopting a new business practice or simply gaining an understanding of a current status, every presentation should end with your audience clear on their next steps, and inspired to take the action you recommend. Revenue managers are frequently called upon to present analytically-driven material from performance updates to the results of special projects. The required/expected action for some presentations may be much clearer than others. A status update or hotel performance review, for example, may not seem like a presentation that's supposed to inspire action – but it is. Do you want your audience to be able to update their stakeholders after they hear your presentation? Do you want them to start or stop selling rooms during a specific time period? Do you want them to simply be better informed about how the hotel is performing? The goals you set for the outcome of the presentation will dictate the script of the story you want to tell, and facilitate the structure of the material you are delivering.

Knowing your audience means that you can tune the content and the action you want to take, to something that will benefit the audience personally. Make sure the benefit to the audience is clear in your mind, and right up front in your presentation. "I'm Kelly, the revenue manager, I'm here today to help you understand the forecast for the next three months, so you can make sure you have hired and trained enough housekeepers". Or, even better, "so you can take credit for our excellent performance in your next departmental meeting".

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