Episode 1: Why Focus on Data Communication Skills?

Why Focus on Data Communication Skills?

In this first episode, I want to share why this show focuses on data communication skills and why you should be honing them to help you with your data career. I also share the light bulb moment I had in graduate school that made me realize the importance of such skills.

You can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify.

What You’ll Learn in this episode

  • The importance of communication skills in your data career
  • What you can expect from this show
  • Similarities in communicating data I’ve seen in both academia and the industry

Action Items

  • Listen to the next episodes to start learning about different data communication skills and how you can hone them
  • Subscribe to the show so you don’t miss a new episode: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify.

Get in Touch with Hana

Let me know what you think of the episode, you can message at hana@trending-analytics.com or on Instagram @hanalytx.

If you are looking for podcast updates and want additional tips on how to visualize and present data sent straight to your inbox, then make sure to subscribe to my weekly data letters here.

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If you enjoyed this episode, check out this episode where I talk about the different types of data communication skills.

Episode Transcript

The reason I focus on data communication skills is that I found that many data practitioners focused primarily on technical. I have been there. I have been guilty of doing this early in my career, too.

We get this kind of obsession with adding more technical skills to our tool belt. And you know, there's always a new tool coming out and we've got this backlog of skills we want to learn. So it often means that. Soft skills and I'm using air quotes around soft because, you know, I don't like how they're labeled this way, but these soft skills get deprioritized and put on the back burner because we think they're not that important for a resume or career growth  or even our current job role.

But then when it comes time to present, Their final work. Some data practitioners struggle with communicating and presenting effectively. You know, you could say, well, Hannah, that's fine because as long as they are good at what they do and their final products and deliverables are good, they'll be fine.

Not really. Here's the thing. You can't assume that everyone will understand your work as well as your. You can't assume they will know the impact of your work or what they will need to do next or why they should even care about it in the first place. So that's what we will focus on in this show, honing your data presentation and communication skills.

Some episodes will focus on a particular aspect of data communication. Sometimes we'll look at each other's experiences and learn from each other, and sometimes we'll have guest experts come on the show and share their tips and experiences with communicating.

At the end of each episode, I will give you tips on how to implement what you just heard, that you can start seeing improvements quickly. But I also want this to be a two-week experience, even though, you know, this is a podcast. So my DMS and email are always open for you to ask questions and share your thoughts and experiences.

I know this can be weird doing this if we don't know each other. So I do want to introduce myself to a bed and tell you about my journey with data.

So since you and I are going to be embarking on this journey of improving our data presentation skills together, we should get to know each other a little bit more. I'll be sharing my background and my journey and improving my data, presentation skills, rephrase, and today's episode. I'll be sharing my background and my journey in improving my data presentation skills.

So here's something you should know about me. My true passion is geography. I am a geographer by training and education. I got both my bachelor's and master's in geography and it wasn't until I was a graduate researcher that I started to work with data and learn how to do data analysis. And then I decided to leave academia three years into my PhD program and work in the industry as a data professional.

At the time of recording this podcast, it's been six years since I transitioned from academia to working in the industry. What's been consistent? However, I am working with data, particularly spatial data, as well as learning how to communicate and present my work effectively. They look a little bit different in academia versus industry, and, you know,  we'll have dedicated episodes to dive into academic and industry specific tips, but there's a lot of similarities in how we present data in both worlds. For  instance, there's a story I share with my email subscribers. About the first time I went to an academic conference and my advisor had actually convinced me to enter a presentation competition, you know, just for practice, you know, neither of us had any expectations of winning and as the date approached, I started to get nervous because my research wasn't complete.

I only had preliminary results and. I was nervous about presenting this, even though, you know, this is all for practice. I still didn't want to make a fool of myself so I went to my advisor and told her about how I was feeling and, you know, asked her for advice on what I should do.

And she told me that. You know, just tell a story with what you do have to find an angle. I was a little surprised to hear that advice. I don't know, for some reason, I hadn't thought of telling a story with my work, mind you. This is before Cole Knaflic bestselling book storytelling with data was published and the term data storytelling wasn't as common as it is.

Now. The interesting thing is now that I look back at this experience. When I was an undergraduate student, I actually used to be a student journalist for a magazine. And I used to write stories, edit other people's stories. But for some reason I hadn't connected that part of my life with my work, you know, with my research, with working with data.

So I took her advice and I not only spent a lot of time on my poster, you know, it was a poster presentation and academic conferences. You don't always do PowerPoint or slide deck presentations. Sometimes you have posters. And I thought about what kind of story I can tell, like how can I make people interested in my work?

How can I show my audience members that whatever results I do have are interesting. It's something they should care about. 

Now, fast forward to the presentation day, things started to go wrong. Of course. Right. One of the things I decided to do was to print my poster closer to the venue of the conference. I consider myself as a very efficient person. And I thought I was doing a very smart thing because then I don't have to fly with a big poster. And if you don't know me, I am a Muslim woman, visibly Muslim woman with a hijab on, I don't want to be carrying a poster or a tube that has a poster inside of it on the plane and, you know, race suspicion.

So I decided I'm going to print my poster closer to the venue. And I went to Costco cause you know, everything in Costco is big, right? Like. They must be able to print really big posters. That's that. And, you know, spoiler alert, they don't, but I didn't know any better. Because I've never been to an academic conference before.

I don't know how big these posters are supposed to be. So I printed the biggest size they had and I took it to the conference venue. I went straight up there and then I realized seeing everyone else's poster, that mine was really tiny. Like it was real , it was very visibly smaller compared to other people's.

Here's the thing. A lot of times when you go to these conferences, people there like, imagine a hall, like a full on ballroom kind of hall and there's panels of posters. Everyone has clipped their posters to a section that's been assigned to them. And so you can see everyone's posters and you can see my very small one.

Anyways. I kind of started to worry and I definitely worried about what my advisor would think about. But then I decided that when it came to the presentation of my work, I knew that if nothing else, I want to tell you to my audience interested in my field of research and also aware of how relevant this is for them for their lives.

I knew that if nothing else, I wanted to leave my audience interested in my field of research and also aware of how relevant this is for them and their lives. And I can still do that with my voice. I still have my voice. I still have my story and my visual aid, which is my poster is not the best, but I can still make it work.

I'm just going to try my best. And I think I was successful because I ended up winning the competition, even though that was not our intention. And my advisor was just as shocked as I was the judges, emailing me later to say it was because of the story I told him. And that's the day I learned how important data storytelling is as well as how important it is to be able to communicate your work to people who have no idea what they're doing.

They're not interested in your niche or the specific area you're working in, but it's the job of you, the data practitioner. And in this case, also the presenter communicates that to your audience, to make that connection for them.

It's interesting to look back in the past decade and see how we tell our story with data has changed, the media we use, you know, they've definitely increased in options and evolved. We went from using static data visualizations, to interactive dashboards and scrolly telling on mobile devices to short form videos.

But what remained consistent with data. Storytelling is considering our audience figuring out how to make the story relevant to them and answering the question of why should they care? Now about you. Dear listener, you are either a data practitioner or someone who occasionally works with data and has to present them. You  may have to write reports or create data visualizations and maybe occasionally present whether it's at meetings or at more formal events.

And maybe you've noticed that your communication skills can use some improving, or maybe you realize that you actually haven't worked on them at all.  Or maybe you're doing great with these skills, but you work with a team of data professionals who could use some pointers.

So you're here to get some ideas, regardless of where you are, new journey, I'm really happy. You're here and would love for you to message me introducing yourself. You can find me on Instagram or Twitter @hanalytx or email me at hana@trending-analytics.com.