By Vinod Kumar

As retailers and online marketers, we spend hours every week reading through analytics reports and finding ways to make sense out of the data. We also spend a good amount of time sharing, presenting and talking about this data with our teams and managers to help make the right decisions. Whether we acknowledge it or not, our data visualization skills are consistently put to use. We consistently call upon our skills to communicate data through charts and other visuals, to help us make compelling cases that support our recommendations for marketing and merchandising decisions.

So, what can U2’s front man – Bono – teach us about the art of data visualization and communication? As it turns out, rock ballads aren’t his only forte – his inner geek can make quite a compelling case for the improvements in the fight against global poverty using facts & data just as much as his rocker side.

In this recent TED Talk on the same subject, Bono makes his case, not with another skillful rendition of one his perennial hits, but rather with entertaining visuals that help communicate his message in a clear and concise manner. Instead of tossing a ton of data on the screen, he uses exciting visuals to make data look interesting, ensuring that his audience is hooked to the story that he is telling. Besides the smart use of animation in the charts and graphs to make a point, his description of the data is as entertaining as the animations themselves. So, here are the lessons I learned from watching this video of his presentation.

1. It is about the story, not just the data

There have been times when I’ve been guilty of presenting way more data than necessary. The problem with this is that my audience would sometimes get lost in all the data and miss the story behind it. In the video, while sharing all the impressive data with the audience, Bono never seems to lose sight of the underlying story. With each graphic, he emphasizes the story that his data set is conveying by drawing a quick summary and a connection back to the original theme before moving on to the next topic.

2. Focus on the “So, what?”

At one point in the video (when he talks about the “zero zone”), he helps his audience interpret the graphic that is up on the screen. He proactively helps them answer the question: “So, what?” In every presentation that includes data and metrics, it is always useful to help summarize your findings by helping your audience understand the significance and impact of the inference you are drawing from the data. This creates two distinct advantages for the presenter:

  • It forces the audience to recognize and acknowledge your interpretation of the data, and
  • It brings everybody on the same page by focusing their attention to your story rather than their subjective interpretation of the data being presented.

3. Remember, data can be entertaining 

Not all of us may have the kind of command presence that Bono has, but a little bit of flair never hurt anybody. Notice the way he floods the audience with a torrent of data immediately after he makes a quip about Brazilian models, which, even if you weren’t really paying any attention to the talk, was guaranteed to grab your attention. A little bit of flair helps those who get easily distracted by a lot of data to retain their focus. We all have different attention spans, especially when it comes to dealing with hoards of data. Flair and entertainment (used in reasonable measures) helps us balance our attention spans appropriately so we can absorb the message well.

What challenges have you faced when compiling and presenting analytics data to your team or your managers? Are there any specific techniques that have worked particularly well for you that you’d like to share?

About the Author
Vinod Kumar, Senior Solution Strategist, is part of Demandware’s Retail Practice. This group of digital commerce veterans assists online retailers in deploying and optimizing their Demandware digital commerce storefronts and related business applications. Additionally, Vinod is a Demandware web analytics expert who gives best practice advice, based on up-to-date industry standards, to our clients.