Using Data in Your Training Can Be Your Best Friend or Your Worst Enemy
by Bob Shively, Enerdynamics President and Lead Facilitator
I've sat through plenty of training sessions in which the instructor loved using data. The visuals were crammed with data. While there were likely some good points in there somewhere, there was so much data that by the time we got even close to focusing on something, the instructor moved on the to next data-heavy slide. We didn’t hear what he or she had to say because we were so intent on trying to parse out the meaning of data.
Data can be overwhelming or can be carefully honed to allow analysis of a specific concept
Other times, I’ve been to sessions where data was carefully used to demonstrate key points by providing learners with memorable visuals. So how do trainers deliver good use of data versus poor use of data? A recent talk by Cheryl Phillips of Stanford University explained the following guidelines:
- First, use data to gain understanding – Be sure you truly understand what the data is saying and use the data to test whether the anecdotal story you were planning to tell is truly reflective of what is going on. If not, question the message you were planning to deliver.
- Second, use data to create a narrative – Learners need to hear stories that they carry with them when they leave training, so be sure you are using data as part of a coherent narrative. If the data does not enhance your narrative, then don’t present it just to be showing data.
- Last, use visuals of data to create impact – Once you have identified data that is important to your narrative, present it in a way that is memorable and will help learners remember the message by remembering the visual.
Here is one quick example for you to think about. Suppose I want learners to realize just how much renewable generation has grown over time in California. I could use this graphic:
Certainly the data shows that renewables have grown from 16% in 2010 to 38% in 2018, and are forecast to hit 70% by 2026. But some learners might get hung up wondering where nuclear went or noticing there used to be 1% coal. So if the point I truly want to drive home is solely about renewables, the following graph would better show the point:
This is just one simple example, but unfortunately we all tend to have too many examples in our own presentations that look like the first (yes, I have to admit I pulled it from some of my recent course materials). Cheryl Phillips calls on us to do to better by carefully thinking through everywhere we use data.
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