In recent years, business strategists, marketers, and data analysts have come to realize the persuasive power of visualization. In a study from New York University, researchers explained that visualized data communicates at a higher level and has a greater impact on its audience – opposed to data without visual accompaniment. Often times, business initiatives are complicated, but simpler strategies tend to come out on top because more people understand them faster. Data visualization can fix that.
The Persuasive Value of Visual Rhetoric
The fancy word for this concept is “visual rhetoric,” but the idea behind it is pretty simple: visual communication is more effective than verbal communication. Why? Visual communication breaks down barriers that verbal communication simply can’t. Cultural differences, for example, can seriously hinder verbal communication – especially if you’re dealing with a language barrier between the sender and receiver. Visual aids (charts and graphs), overcomes this. Complex concepts and ideas are also easier to communicate when presented visually. In business, as in life, solutions and ways forward can be complicated. If more of the people that need to sign off decisions can understand, and accept, the complexities of the situation at hand and a plan of action, the more likely you are to make your case.
Secondly, verbal communication requires two active participants: the sender and the receiver. When you speak to an audience, you have to engage them (which can be challenging) and maintain their interests (even more challenging.) Visual aids simplify this exchange by allowing the receiver to absorb information almost immediately and remember it longer. Imagine the difference between a letter and a photograph. You could spend several pages describing a beautiful sunset, or simply show your friends a picture to impart the same information with greater detail, accuracy, and emotion. In short, It doesn’t matter what type of information you need to convey; visual communication results in easier, faster communication and better understanding.
Empowering Your Data With Visual Rhetoric
Armed with this knowledge, it’s high time you asked yourself, “How can I use the persuasive power of data visualization to convey my ideas?” The answer is simple: To help stakeholders see your BI initiative from the right angle. Business intelligence strategies need buy-in from top-level management and stakeholders; every stakeholder has different goals and priorities, and your data needs to persuade each of them. Data is more than pretty graphics; it has the power to make an impression. In a way, every form of data visualization tells a story, but the rhetoric behind it is particularly important when you need it to make a case for a BI initiative.
Here are a few tips and tricks to help you build a strong case with your new secret weapon, data visualization:
Help Your Audience Trust Your Data Source
If someone’s ever suggested that you cherry-picked your data, you’re familiar with that all-too common barrier to persuasion: skepticism. While a discerning eye is essential when evaluating data, an overly skeptical audience can impede progress and derail important conversations right out of the station. Data visualization is one of the most effective tools of persuasion, but don’t assume your audience will be convinced on the first glance. The key is to back up your high-level ideas with granular table data and easy-to-digest charts and graphs. With this approach, you can give the data a backbone and show your audience that you aren’t pulling arbitrary numbers; you’re giving them pure, actionable information. In fact, studies have shown that visualization is not just persuasive, but it helps viewers remember information, too.
Read next: Fighting Cognitive Bias with Data
Build a Strong Train of Thought
Let’s say your data is flawless and your dashboard perfectly designed. No one can argue with that, right? The short answer to this question is, “They probably still will.” Why? Not because there’s something wrong with your logic, but because your audience might be as eager to jump aboard your train of thought as you are. Overcoming this roadblock is fairly simple though: all you have to do is give your audience full access to explore the data sets that led you, the presenter, to a logical conclusion. By doing so, you’ll allow your audience to break down any defensive barriers themselves as they follow the same logical path you did.
Here are a few ways to help your audience understand your train of thought with a dashboard:
- Provide the most important information first. Display high-level metrics where users can see the first.
- Then, give them the opportunity to learn more each data set by clicking through drilldowns and related metrics.
- Finally, make sure the dashboard presents data in context. Your goal is to show important metrics, then immediately provide the answers to the question, “why?”
Find the Beauty in Simplicity
It’s no secret that data can get complicated. The problem is when data gets too complicated for your target audience. Many people – if not most – will automatically reject unfamiliar ideas and concepts if they simply don’t understand them. Often times, this rejection is subconscious, which means your dashboard needs to carefully guide viewers toward the end-goal without confusing them along the way. Fortunately for you, simplification is where data viz thrives. According to Google’s Adam Singer, data visualization is the secret weapon of persuasion. Sure, making complex ideas seem simple may seem like a tall order, but you can do it by implementing fundamental design concepts and by optimizing reports to your audience.
Data visualization is a unique combination of logic and creativity, which makes it a powerful source of persuasion. How do you use data visualization to speak to your audience? What’s worked (or hasn’t worked) for you in the past? We’d love to hear your ideas – just hit us up on Twitter @iDashboards today!
Get the Guide Fundamental Design Principles for Dashboards
Even if you’re not the artistic type, this guide will have you thinking like a graphic designer and making informed choices that support your data narrative.