Become a Story Telling Ninja: Present Data Science Models to Stakeholders

Story Telling Ninja
A Data Science Ninja

Over the last few years, I have presented a lot of projects involving Data Science models, Natural Language Processing to be more precise, to various stakeholders and leadership teams. While it’s super important to convey your technicalities, results and all the hard work you have put in building the Data Science models, visualizations, etc., what’s more important is how you convey those things! In this blog, we will talk about the art of story telling!

Whether you are presenting to a technical crowd or a non-technical crowd, we’ll first discuss some common themes. And then we’ll talk about how you can differentiate your presentation based on type of your audience. Having said that, it’s super important to break down your problem statement and solution in simpler language – irrespective of your audience type. So here’s the general structure of the presentation, that I follow:

Start with the meat of the matter: the conclusion

It may sound counter-intuitive but your audience should know about the conclusion in the very first slide. PERIOD.

Folks in leadership already have too many complex problems in their plate, you don’t want to pile up yours. Would you? So if you start your presentation with the regular template: problem description, your technical solution, results, and then conclusion, you may not own the attention of audience for a very long time.

Consider an analogy: You promise to take the leadership on a ride to an exciting place but you first explain to them your car, how well built it is, how you designed the engine, it’s horse power, and all the other innumerable features of the car before even igniting the engine. Anybody would be bored to death! Rather, tell them about the place, what is there at that place and why it’s important to reach there. Then talk about how you will reach there in your well designed car with a great engine and innumerable features.

Be very clear about why you are presenting to the leadership, and what you are expecting from them. That’s lesson #1 for the art of story telling.

What’s the problem, its scale, and its impact

It’s time to dig a little deep into the problem and this should be your next talking point.

I am assuming that you are building data science models to solve a particular business problem. So your audience might have people who care about the business impact or the actual data science models. Either way, the way I have presented the problem is usually a blend of business and data – so that all types of audience are on the same page and have the necessary context.

It’s also important to share the scale of the problem and it’s impact (on your business). This helps give more weightage to your solution and your work. That’s lesson #2 for the art of story telling.

What’s the current solution?

Remember this: if you are trying to seek a buy-in from your leadership or stakeholders, it’s absolutely important to highlight the contrast between what’s the current solution in your company (or no solution) to what you are proposing or that you have built.

Also Remember: Don’t blaze on the current solution to make a point to your audience, how your solution is better. That would be undermining the efforts of somebody and it’s not cool at all. Somebody might have built a solution with the best possible knowledge and resources available to them at that point of time. You can simply convey how you are improvising on the existing solution or how you are approaching the problem statement differently.

That’s lesson #3 for the art of story telling.

Is there an existing solution in the market?

Frankly, I kept this slide only when I was filing for patent – where it was required to present to the lawyers how is my solution different from the ones that exist in the market.

You can choose to keep this as an independent slide or somehow subtly convey with the “current solution” slide – depending upon your audience, and whether they would care for this information.

Now talk about the solution

With all the context that you have given in the earlier slides, your audience is hopefully ready to learn about your solution.

Remember: you will be the best judge on how deep you want to talk about your solution. It should be based on the kind of audience that will be attending your presentation. I always have multiple presentations of the same solution which have varied level of details based on my audience type.

If you are not sure who will be your audience: I would suggest to keep your solution balanced in the technical details, keep it concise – yet make sure to skim through the important aspects so as to look detailed and not shallow. You can keep the very detailed slides in an appendix, so that you can share or refer to them, if somebody asks. #JustMySuggestion

That’s lesson #5 for the art of story telling.

Cost of action

In this section, you explain what would it cost to your leadership or stakeholders – in terms of money, resources, time, etc.

Remember, it’s vital to present this information only to people from whom you are expecting a buy-in for your solution. Otherwise, it doesn’t make much sense to have this slide to every audience type.

Cost of inaction

Take this slide as an opportunity to invoke an action amongst stakeholders or leadership. Highlight all possible scenarios and make them so compelling that the listener feels obligated to buy-in for your solution.

Let me present you another perspective to approach this section. Write such points in cost of inaction, that your leadership is atleast compelled to think about the solution and not simply move on!

Key takeaways

This slide basically sums up your presentation. You could wrap up with pointers about your next steps at a very high-level plan. But if you think that next steps require a slide of its own, you may do so, based on the audience. Idea is to convey to the audience that you know what you are doing and you are thorough.

Final remark: action items

As a final lesson in the art of story telling, you can use this slide to basically repeat your conclusion, or what are you expecting from your leadership or stakeholders. But this time, be extremely clear in the ask or in highlighting, how you need their help.

If you have read all the way until here, thank you! I am assuming that presenting your work matters to you and I would be glad if the points above help you in any way in becoming a better story telling person. But it’s very important for you to know that your company might already have some best practices or things that might work differently. So it’s not a one size fits all approach. This presentation structure generally works for me but I too have tweaked the presentation structure quite a few times, depending upon the audience and various other factors!

Do check out the other posts  that I have written related to software engineering and data science. Please consider subscribing to my blog and feel absolutely free to reach out. I am also mentoring in the areas of Data Science, Career and Life in Singapore. You can book an appointment to talk to me.

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