Monday, May 5, 2014

A young statistician learns the importance of communicating data simply

A story from Thomas Redman, PhD, featured on the HBR Blog Network:

I trained as a statistician and first joined Bell Labs in the network performance group. A year or two after I started, it was time for my first big presentation at AT&T Headquarters. I completed my prep well in advance and rehearsed carefully. Then I was off to the big meeting.

It could not have gone worse. The only impressions I left were bad ones. Young hothead that I was, I blamed everyone but myself, including the audience: “The average manager up here can’t even understand a pie chart!”

An established veteran of many such presentations looked me square in the eye and said, “Of course not, Tom. It’s your job to make it so they don’t have to.”

That was my first lesson in data presentation. As a data presenter, you face a tall order in getting others to comprehend and believe data. You have to think through your audience’s background and present data in ways that advance their understanding. The best way to do so is to make your plots and the accompanying explanations easy to understand.

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