It’s not only what you know, but how clearly you can communicate what you know to others. We’ve all seen some variation of this statement at some point. I believe in this wholeheartedly.
I was scrolling through twitter last night when I came across a tweet by Matt Kobach (Great on twitter, go follow him).
Matthew Kobach @mkobach
July 6th 2020
5 Retweets75 Likes
If you don’t know Chamath Palihapitiya, I recommend you check him out. He’s a highly successful entrepreneur working on very complex problems. When he’s doing an interview or a podcast, he breaks them down in a way that’s easy for the audience to understand. He’s been doing a great job discussing the economy and stock market over the last few months on various appearances.
Matt nailed his tweet with the word clarity. I responded saying “His ability to simplify complex things is 👍”. That response was incomplete. I should have said “His ability to simplify complex things and make them easy for his audience to understand is 👍”.
I learned this lesson back in 2012 when my company hired a Chief Analytics Officer. He had a lot of great ideas on how we could use data to help improve the company. The lesson that stuck most with me since then was how to communicate effectively.
The rest of this post will be from my perspective as a data analyst, but the approach can be used no matter what you do.
Most of my practice came from summarizing data analysis. Knowing how to write a good analysis summary is crucial. Based on your insights and how you present them, they can be very influential in the decision making process for the next steps of the project or business you’re involved in.
Using a ‘fact, meaning, and action’ framework gives you a very clear outline of how to get your message across to your audience. It also allows for flexibility depending on who you are communicating with.
Here’s an example of someone trying to figure out if they should change the appearance of a sign up form on their website. They might be running an A/B test with a control group and a test group, to figure out which version of the form gets more website visitors to sign up and create an account for their business.
The ‘Fact’ represents the facts of the data. There shouldn’t be any opinions or interpretations here. This should always include data. ‘Since Launching the website A/B test two weeks ago, the test group has had a 15% statistically significant increase in sign up rate vs the control group’.
The ‘Meaning’ represents the insight(s) in terms of your analysis and the business. This is the main idea you are trying to get across to your audience. ‘The sign up form in the test group is better at getting website visitors to sign up for an account’.
The ‘Action’ represents the next steps you recommend the audience/business to take. Your analysis summaries should ALWAYS have an ‘Action’ for next steps. It’s how you keep the business moving forward, and it will help you be seen as someone who has influence and can lead. ‘Because we are seeing statistically significant results, we should make the sign up form from the test group the new permanent sign up form for our website’.
Once you have the basic outline for your ‘Fact, Meaning, and Action’ framework, the next step is to figure out the level of detail to include. A general rule is that the more senior the audience, the more concise the communication should be.
The executive team and senior leadership are often too busy to read through the details of an analysis, so they value just getting the bullet points and the information that’s needed to make a business decision. If you’re communicating to middle management or lower, including more details can be a good idea, as long as you keep it relevant. If you are sending an update to a larger organization, it’s a good idea to provide a little bit of context in addition to the summary. People on other teams may not be familiar with the analysis you’re doing, or why it’s important for the business.
Although these are guidelines, they shouldn’t be taken as absolutes. It’s your responsibility to get to know your audience. Some leaders may really enjoy digging into data when they have time, so sending them a copy of the analysis itself may be a good idea. Some may want to discuss the analysis results in person instead of just reading an email. It all depends, and it’s your job to figure out the best way to communicate.
If you happen to work in a remote environment, written communication becomes even important because it may be the only form of communication you have with some of your audience. Although there are a bunch of video conferencing tools available nowadays, there may be cases where you’re communicating with someone one the other side of the globe, and working hours don’t match up. In this case, your written communication needs to be good enough to make up for the fact you can’t meet in person.
The guidelines I mentioned above not only have to apply to analysis summaries, but now they need to apply to your emails and chat messages as well. With every message you write it’s a good idea to ask yourself a few questions. Could this be more concise? Could I imagine someone interpreting this differently than how it’s intended? Does this person have all the context they need? Would visual communication be useful in addition to what I’m trying to communicate through writing?
It may seem difficult and a little time consuming at first, but the more you can be critical of what you’re writing to an audience, the better your written communication will become. Another important thing to note is that your tone of voice is harder to interpret through writing. Not being able to communicate in person or through video means that if a message is worded a certain way, it may come off as sarcastic or passive aggressive, when it is not intended to be that way. If you’re in a remote environment, it’s a good idea to incorporate emojis into your messages. You want your writing to come across as professional, so they shouldn’t be overdone, but a well placed emoji can add a certain tone to a message when real voices and facial expressions aren’t available. Use them carefully.
I briefly mentioned visual communication above. Humans are visual creatures. Unfortunately, most of the time in business, we don’t communicate that way. I’ll dedicate a whole post to this in the future. It demands more focus since it’s so important.