How to Present Data: Lessons for Filmmakers (and the Vendors Making "Big Data" Apps for Filmmakers) about Data Interpretation and Implementation

In a 2012 post to his Occam's Razor blog, digital marketing evangelist Avinash Kaushik provides a number of (actually he ultimately boils it down to 6) valuable tips about converting complex data into simple logical stories.

Before excerpting Mr. Kaushik's article, let me start by quoting what a great marketer - whose use of the internet continues to revolutionize how films are sold (and who shall remain nameless - until I get his permission to attribute the following quote) - once told me:

"I don't need an algorithm. I'm a storyteller. Give me a bunch of data and I'll figure out how to spin it."

Very much in keeping with that observation, Avinash Kaushik's post focuses on storytelling - providing a "short lesson on how to apply the power of unpacking the data to increase the chances that it clearly communicates the story we want to tell."

Here are some excerpts from Avinash Kaushik's post:

"My first question on seeing any collection of data is: "What the heck is it showing?""


"Will a lay person (CEO! [Filmmaker? Filmmaker's Sponsor?]) actually understand what we are trying to say here?"

"When I look at a set of data the very first thing I want to do is see if it is logically structured. It might be my background as a mechanical engineer, but I like things to be laid out cleanly, I love symmetry, and I love clear connections and flow."

"This might seem odd but the two places where I can lay things out and work through them are PowerPoint and Excel. I find that the boxes in Excel force a good discipline on me, and it is impossible to communicate anything too complicated with PowerPoint (ok, it is possible but I'm unable to do that! :))."

"I love making numbers invisible. I love trying to figure out how to visually tell a simple, yet compelling, story."

Avinash Kaushik concludes his post with "Six Quick, Simple, Data Presentation Tips" as follows:

"If you want to communicate for impact, in time-compressed situations or when you are not presenting the data yourself, I would like to offer the following six tips for your consideration:

1. You need to ensure that you are not presenting a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma .

It is your job to unwrap the data and the insights and present them as logically and with the simplest flow possible.

2. Consider these two questions: "What is the macro story here?" "What are the sub strands?"

The answers will be illuminating.

3. Every row, every column, every number you present will contain a message. Use this power.

Send a message with what goes first, what goes next, what's metaphorically underlined.

4. Good analysts are great assassins. They are great at finding lame metrics and dimensions and assassinating them.

I was genuinely sad that the only thing I could kill above was the number of days. If I had a bit more time or context, I would have killed at least 3 more metrics (I can see them now!).

5. Sometimes you don't have a choice, but whenever you have a choice use a visualization – even if a simple one created in PowerPoint – and not a table.

6.... Data presentation and visualization is always easier if you actually understand the business, because you are trying to simplify and communicate what you already know well."

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