Over the past year, the Harvard Business Review published a series of blogs on the subject “Persuading with Data”. Here I survey the series by piecing together quotations from the blogs. The HBR Insight Center is at hbr.org/special-collections/insight/persuading-with-data.
An excellent visualization, according to Edward Tufte, expresses “complex ideas communicated with clarity, precision and efficiency.” I would add that an excellent visualization also tells a story through the graphical depiction of statistical information. Few forms of communication are as persuasive as a compelling narrative. To this end, the visualization needs to tell a story to the audience. Storytelling helps the viewer gain insight from the data […].
We’re all storytellers. In a business presentation, you’re telling the story behind your campaign, company, or product. In a job interview, you’re telling the story behind your personal brand. In a marketing pitch, you’re telling the story about your idea […]. You are competing for the viewer’s time and attention, so make sure the narrative has a hook, momentum, or a captivating purpose […]. Whether you’re presenting or circulating your charts, you need to highlight the most important items to ensure that your audience can follow your train of thought and focus on the right elements […].
The best presenters tend to show rather than tell, creating opportunities to engage and persuade. They feature fresh, exciting information. By soliciting feedback and helping listeners feel ownership of the ideas under discussion, they inspire audiences and ultimately create a bond with them. Great presentation tools should have the necessary elements to support questions and intellectual digression, to allow as little or as much data to be presented per idea to communicate effectively […].
That’s an important part of its persuasiveness: You want to show someone something, but you also want to give them a sense that they’re free to move around and find their own relationships. When they do, they’ll have confidence that you really are giving them the whole story. A persuasive infographic surprises the viewer. It moves them in some way and makes them want to keep looking at it or show it to other people […].
Assembling and interpreting data is fine. Please do it. But it’s hard to make a purely analytical case for a highly innovative idea because data only shows what has happened, not what might happen. If you really want to make the case for an innovative idea, then you need to go one step further. Don’t just gather data. Generate your own. Strengthen your case and bolster your own confidence—or expose flaws before you even make a major resource request—by running an experiment that investigates one or a handful of the key uncertainties that would need to be resolved for your idea to succeed […].
To influence human decision making, you have to get to the place where decisions are really made—in the unconscious mind, where emotions rule, and data is mostly absent. Yes, even the most savvy executives begin to make choices this way. They get an intent, or a desire, or a want in their unconscious minds, then decide to pursue it and act on that decision. Only after that do they become consciously aware of what they’ve decided and start to justify it with rational argument […].