5 Tips on Communicating Data

High angle view of medical staff meeting with hospital administrators and communicating data during hospital finance meeting.

5 Tips for Communicating Data

One of the most remarkable things about data is that it can be gathered, analyzed, and used in a multitude of ways. When communicated to others, data can shed light and drive change, offering a plethora of opportunity for advancement—so long as it is communicated effectively. While there are endless types of data to be collected, and many ways to analyze that data, there are some key factors that can improve the ability to communicate your data to others and may empower them to better utilize it.

  1. Know Your Audience. The level and depth of information colleagues want and need will vary greatly depending on their role in the company. A CEO may want a higher-level overview of the data—what do these numbers mean overall? While a frontline staff member may want more specifics—what specific thing can be done to improve processes? Knowing detailed information about what your audience needs from the data allows you to tailor the presentation to be most effective and time efficient.

  2. Make it Memorable. Messages are easier to remember when they are presented in a way that engages multiple modes of learning. That is, if you plan to verbalize data, strengthen the message by adding visuals to supplement your spoken word. This allows your audience to remember not only what they heard, but also what they saw. These visual aids could be charts, colors, photos—really anything that helps the message stick! This will also help people to conceptualize the information more effectively.

  3. Make it Easy to Understand. When creating those visual aids, be consistent with formatting choices in graphs and figures so as not to overwhelm your audience. This consistency might include anything from type of graphs to color choice. Staying consistent allows those you are communicating with to be able to quickly comprehend the graph—by changing formatting, not only are you presenting new data for people to digest, you are presenting a new type of graph for them to decipher. Data is also easier to understand when it is being shared regularly. The more people see and interact with data, the more comfortable they will feel.

  4. Start with what’s important. People are busy; don’t make them wait to get to the good stuff! Presenting data should be like a newspaper article—you know what happens by the time you finish reading the headline. Be upfront with the findings and then get into the specifics that may interest the specific group you are working with.

  5. Be able to answer How and Why. Ask yourself questions your audience might be wondering. How was the information gathered? How or by whom were the statistics and calculations run? While these questions may or may not come up during your presentation, they are nonetheless important to have in your back pocket. If you are communicating your data to someone who asks these questions and you fluster, you may lose credibility — even if the numbers are accurate. There are many nuances in statistical testing; having prepared your reasons for why you ran the chosen tests will aid in the credibility of the numbers.