How marketers can master data storytelling and visualization with Lea Pica

Wondering how to turn numbers into an engaging story? Well, today we’ll discuss how marketers can master data storytelling and visualization with Lea Pica.

You'll learn

  • A walkthrough of Lea’s data storytelling framework
  • How to visualize your data in a meaningful way
  • The core skills you need to develop to present your data confidently
  • The best resources to learn about data storytelling and data visualization

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Anna Shutko:

Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of The Marketing Analytics Show, the podcast that helps you get better at marketing analytics.

I’m your host Anna Shutko and today we’re joined by Lea Pica, who is a data storytelling expert. Lea is the mastermind behind and a creator of the Data Presentation and Storytelling Course. She’s also the host of the industry-lauded Present Beyond Measures showed podcast.

In this episode, we’ll talk about Lea’s very own conceptualize, visualize, deliver process for data storytelling. What a persuasive storytelling technique is, and how you can visualize your data in a meaningful way? Which core skills you need to develop to present your data confidently, as well as the best resources to learn from when it comes to data storytelling and data visualization. I hope you’ll enjoy this episode.

Thank you so much for joining me today Lea.

Lea Pica:

Oh, I’m so excited to be here, one of your first guests.

Anna Shutko:

Awesome. Let’s start with the first question. Could you please walk us through your process of data visualization. I saw you have this amazing framework of conceptualize, plus visualize, plus deliver. So could you please tell us a bit more about that?

Lea Pica:

Yeah, sure. So it’s actually, the scope is pretty far beyond just data visualization as well. But for me, it’s the entire storytelling process of data during live meetings, that is my specialty.

So for me, the whole process of visualizing and telling a data story during a meeting of some kind really starts from… It’s like the big bang. It’s like a tiny, tiny seed of an idea of a business question, or a need or a problem, that the data is surfacing. Or a specific goal or objective that a stakeholder has in your organization or a client.

From that little seed gives birth to an entire process where you go about… it’s actually four phases is my entire process.

First in that conceptualize phase, the first step everyone is dying to do is just open their PowerPoint and start dropping in every single number they have into a chart, one after the other, none of them really tied together. By the end of it, no one’s exactly sure what to walk away with. That’s the process I’m trying to interrupt.

I’m trying to help that whole outcome go a little differently. So conceptualizing is about taking a step back before anyone dives into any data, and really takes a hard look at what are people’s needs right now. What do people need to be successful? What would make the customer’s life better? What’s going to knock down the biggest obstacle that a client or a stakeholder has to achieving a specific goal? What will help them get promoted?

We want to think about these in terms of helping people succeed, not just getting through the process like, “I have to get through this meeting and then get back to my real work.” Not just, “Well, they asked for this so I’m going to give them exactly what they asked for.” It’s really contextualizing your data in terms of what it is that’s going to make them a success.

So in my process, I give questions that help you probe into conversations with them, around that. You end up arriving at a general idea and a framework and a theme for your whole presentation. The whole idea is that your entire presentation wraps around one particular theme, whether it was one area that you want to focus on optimizing, whether it was a particular success. Or learning from a test that you want to take a second shot at. Whatever it is, is that there’s one cohesive theme that everything wraps around.

After that, there’s a brainstorming process of trying to find all of the information that would go into that theme, but only information that supports that theme, not every number that you have available, but what is going to specifically feed into that objective.

Just from that, once you have this framework of information and it fits into a proper structure that has storytelling narrative arcs to it, which most of us aren’t even aware of as a tool. It has aspects of overcoming your audience’s objections. It has aspects of projecting what might happen if no one takes any action. Then also how to frame your recommendations in a way that is designed to get them actually done. Because let’s continue to monitor is not a recommendation that I recommend having, and it’s very common.

That’s just the first piece. If you want to kind of jump in and ask anything in between these phases, it’s a big question that you ask because it’s a big process. So that’s really conceptualizing. The idea’s by that phase you have enough information to actually visualize in a way that is going to become a cohesive story that people can follow, and be motivated to act upon.

The next two phases are all visual. So these are all the best practices that designers and magazines, photographers, end in a presentation like TED Talks, with really the big guns. I’ve tried to distill all of the cutting edge trends, but also the ones that are designed to help the brain understand information into slides so that they don’t talk over you as the presenter. That’s the goal. You’re bringing a wing person, not someone that comes and steals your thunder away. So they’re very straightforward, very simple design tools. People think that you have to be a professional artist in order to design beautiful slides and you really don’t. I suck at art. So there’s that piece.

Then moving into the visualizing the data portion. We kind of take the first two processes of conceptualizing and just slide design. We kind of put it all together in a protocol that I called the Pica Protocol. It’s a prescription for the whole data storytelling process.

It basically builds on everything that’s been learned in the prior two phases. But in a way also stands alone because, for each data visual you have, you’re taking it through a process of asking, “What is the purpose of this particular visual? What are the insights that should be jumping out right away that you want to communicate? How can you help them jump out? What’s the context around those particular insights? How can you continue to dig deeper into the particular question? Do you have everything you need to help them make a decision? Then finally, what are the aesthetic artistic principles that you’re using to help things stand out and be very clear and understandable to the audience?”

So that’s the whole part about, developing your storyline and your deck. Then the delivery portion is for any presentation, it’s about developing confidence, developing rapport with your audience inside and outside the conference room. How to manage technical logistics, especially in this COVID era of non-stop Zoom meetings. How to navigate really challenging audience questions and learn specific communication toolsets that can help you keep from descending into really tense arguments and things. Then finally, how to give elicit feedback in a way that makes everyone feel like they’re a part of the process. It’s like a feel good exercise all around. So that I think is the whole process. I’ve never described it in one shot.

Anna Shutko:

Yeah. You’ve done a fantastic job. Thank you so much. I love your process. I think it’s very clear and I really, really love that data is portrayed in such a meaningful way. It’s like the whole loops of first you design, then you collect everything, then you structure everything. After you’ve presented, you provide feedback also in a very, very meaningful way. So, yeah great job there.

My next question would be about the persuasive storytelling techniques. Because you mentioned there were a part of the process. Could you please tell us what there are and maybe provide a few examples of these techniques?

Lea Pica:

Yeah, sure.

So the biggest part of storytelling that I think is missed in most corporate presentations is an actual story structure.

So when people say telling stories, I think they’re actually missing this core component, which is called a narrative arc. So in every single well-told story, whether it’s the Shawshank Redemption, or Star Wars, or Breaking Bad, or whatever, Winnie the Pooh. All of the most memorable influential I want to say, stories have an invisible arc to them that grab you as the audience member, and take you through a journey that is an arc shape. So you’re starting with an exposition.

This is where a movie or show sets the tone for a particular story. What’s the setting? Where are they? Who are the main characters? What is their backstory? Where in their lives are they? Then some kind of conflict begins to arise or something unexpected. That’s called the rising action.

So the rising action, when you would translate this to a presentation is this is something that we found that we didn’t expect. We looked at this analysis and you’re starting to kind of reveal numbers. Maybe you’re also revealing numbers that they did expect, which is a great way to get them comfortable and then twist it around into something they may not expect. Because that’s one of the most powerful storytelling techniques is a surprising twist of events.

So you might twist those events as you’re starting to elevate the action going up. Like, “but when we dug deeper, we actually found something that really surprised us. Our conversion wasn’t so great in this area.” Something like that, and you would show that visual.

Then at the climax, you are showing the height of the tension and the height of the problem, essentially. This is the big issue that we have to take care of. Whether it was in your data, or someone’s complaining about it in a survey. Or the client is complaining about it and you’re finding the reason why it’s happening. This is when you’re agitating that problem the most. You want them sitting at the edge of your seat at this point.

At this point, this is also where I like to play with something called loss aversion. Where you can really agitate this problem by having them think about what they will lose if they don’t take any action. So we, as humans would rather not lose something than gain something we don’t have. It’s pretty amazing. Not a lot of people know that you would think it’s the other way. So when you’re able to put into context or put into tangible numbers what they might leave on the table if they don’t take any action on what you’re saying, that can really get people in a tense state.

“Well, what do we do? Tell us what to do.” That’s when you can begin to bring what’s called the falling action. That’s like the downward slope of the curve. That’s when you’re saying, “But we have a plan. So don’t worry. The plan is X, Y, or Z. We have these recommendations. We want to know what you think about that. We’d also love to know if you have suggestions.” But that’s how you start to bring the tension down. The tension really starts to flatten out when you’re all collaborating on a solution of some kind. Or nailing down who’s going to do these recommendations, what’s going to happen, and by when.

The idea is that that curve flattens at the end, during the resolution phase. So in resolution, you have a plan. Everyone feels good about that. You don’t necessarily know the end of the story because you haven’t gone out and put the solution into place, but maybe that’s for the next round. But as you are resolving, the curve ends a little bit higher than where the curve started. Because the whole point is that your audience will never be the same after you’ve shared that information. You’ve left them in a more knowledgeable, more empowered, more enlightened place that catalyzed some kind of a transformation. For me, amongst all the different storytelling tools there are available, the narrative arc is simply the most powerful one that gets an audience totally jazzed to take action.

Anna Shutko:

All right. Thank you very much. This is very, very fascinating to listen to. I do agree that when you bring in emotions and this narrative arc certainly does invoke a lot of emotions, I think it definitely makes your presentation more exciting and more involving.

Now could you please tell us more about the skills marketers should gain if they would like to narrate their data in a more meaningful way like you’ve just described?

Lea Pica:

Well, I can’t recommend data presentation skills highly enough, and that happens to be what I teach. But the reason why I love teaching, what I teach is because it’s a very comprehensive toolbox. It’s not saying, “Well, just learn how to create these specific chart types. Just learn how to speak more clearly.” It’s super comprehensive.

You’re starting to become kind of like a therapist for your audience. You’re getting in their heads and you’re really translating their needs. You’re the bridge between their needs and your data. So you’re learning how to become like a Rosetta Stone between them and in a way. You’re learning how to brainstorm content in a way that makes sense. You’re learning these narrative arc tools, how to do slide builds of splitting a story in half, and building anticipation towards it. You’re learning communication skills like neuro-linguistic processing programming. Which is all about using specific close techniques. Reaffirming language that says, “Hey, isn’t that interesting guys?” Or, “How cool is that?”.

You’re getting them in a positive, affirmative place to keep them with you so that they stay on that journey. You’re learning about different storytelling frameworks, like the hero’s journey, and understanding the roles that you’re playing. You’re learning different design qualities, like alignment and the rule of thirds, how to use color to emphasize your story instead of as this random thing.

Also, you’re learning how to be sort of like an emcee for the meeting, how to start a meeting, really strong. How to gauge when you’re starting to lose people. How to keep them engaged throughout so that they feel like they’re being heard. So it’s a really a master toolbox of a lot of different areas that are going to have people feeling like you owned this presentation and that it was designed for them, and that you own the whole thing.

Anna Shutko:

All right. Awesome. Yeah, it definitely sounds interesting, and definitely sounds like a lot to learn for marketers.

Now, could you please tell us more about where could marketers go if they would like to learn more about it? And maybe even a couple of words about your own courses and projects?

Lea Pica:

Yeah. Sure. So the best way to get started if you want to learn the process that I’ve really mastered for the last 10 years is my brand new online assessment. I’m really excited about this. I’ve worked on this every day for two months. It’s called What’s the Number One Silent Killer of Your Data Presentations? The idea is that over the last two decades in presenting, and listening to hundreds of corporate and conference sessions, I’ve identified four main killers, like silent killers that we’re falling prey to. Because we simply haven’t been given the skills, the specific skill set that would keep us from falling prey to certain dynamics that are interfering with our success.

There the killers that we don’t know are even at play when we are struggling to finish our presentations, or we don’t even know how to get started. When we feel like our slides are a mess, or our bosses aren’t liking how it’s going. When we feel like people look at our charts and they’re so confused, or they’re asking really weird, challenging questions. Or when we feel like we’re going to die of tense nervousness when we’re in there, because we’re like sweating bullets and we forgot what we’re going to say. All of these are simply skills gap.

This assessment can help you identify which of those four killers seems to be most at large in your presentations. It points you to the solution that seems most appropriate for helping to overcome that killer, to gain that, to fill that skills gap. But also round out with all of the skills that we talked about today. So the best way to find and start that assessment would be Pretty easy to remember. That will get you started. I can’t wait to see how the quiz assessments land for you.

Anna Shutko:

All right. We’re done for today. So thank you for joining me today Lea.

Lea Pica:

Oh, thank you so much for having me. This was really fun. I got to talk about my stuff in a little bit of a different way today.

Anna Shutko:

That’s the end of today’s episode. Thanks for tuning in. Before we go, make sure to hit the subscribe button and leave us a review or rating on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you’re listening. If you’d like to kickstart your marketing analytics, check out the 14-day free trial See you in the next episode of the Marketing Analytics Show.

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