When I first started in market research it was true to say that if you expressed your own personal point of view, they may have taken away your market research woggle. I recall that you could fail the Market Research Society membership interview for failing to restrict yourself to the entirely rational objective evidence.
Today, of course, we live in a totally different environment. It has now been recognised that insight professionals are admissible evidence. It is important to have, and express, a point of view. Insight professionals can no longer remain neutral and fall back on diffident, hesitant language. They need to put some of themselves into a project. The expectation is that they will be forthright and express an opinion.
It is about providing an evidence-based opinion
Seasoned professionals may find the task of providing an opinion easy to achieve. However, based on my experience on running Storytelling in Business workshops over the last decade or so, newcomers to the industry often find they lack the confidence to know how to express a personal point of view.
Newcomers can have their head turned by lots of loose talk about the power of intuitive gut-feel decision making, which can deceive them into thinking that intuitive, rather than evidence-based, decision making is always correct. But as we know, although the intuitive route can be a powerful way of solving the problem, sometimes intuition can be a false friend. GUT feel can sometimes mean Given Up Thinking decision-making. I prefer to work with the idea of the power of informed intuitive decision-making. But it is quite tricky to hit the sweet spot between balancing evidence and opinion. So, in this blog we provide a few tips for newcomers on expressing an evidence-based point of view.
Some guiding principles
In saying insight professionals should have a point of view, this is not an invitation to present anecdotal, self-referential, biased, one-sided, personal accounts of a situation. Thus, the fundamental guiding principle is that a point of view needs to be informed and grounded in the evidence.
Another guiding principle is to think of your role as an insight professional as framing the decision choices for the stakeholders. Lou Gerstner, the former IBM Chairman, once said decision-making is easy once someone has framed the choices for me.
A further principle is not to get cajoled into making a leap from a piece of data or a statistic into making a recommendation: avoid the What is your recommendation? culture. Instead, work through this process before providing your recommendation. Take each of the decision choices you have framed and review the evidence for and against each one. For each option, outline the opportunities, and then the risks, of pursuing this particular approach. Then review the option’s likelihood of success – and map out the consequences. At this point, you can now move to offering your own point of view – recommendation. This is a far cry from making a massive leap from presenting a piece of data and then having to say what you think the organisation should do.
Going beyond this, here are a few storytelling tips that newcomers may find helpful.
Some storytelling tips on offering a point of view
There is reference in the storytelling literature to introducing personal storytelling episodes when presenting. Again, this is not an invitation to be self-indulgent, but to put something of your own personality into the presentation. At certain points you could explain how you felt about a piece of evidence, or how you would feel about pursuing a particular course of action. This is entirely legitimate, but these personal storytelling episodes need to be considered and carefully constructed. From my own experience, I find it helpful to have the following three categories of personal storytelling episodes available to use in a presentation.
Demonstrate your telescopic big picture thinking skills
First, demonstrate to the audience your big picture, more conceptual executive vision skills. Here you are looking for an opportunity to reassure your audience that you understand, for example, the different business models in play in the stakeholders’ target market. Share your experience in this space – tell some personal stories.
Demonstrate your microscopic thinking skills – attention to detail
Second, you need to show that you are totally on top of the project details. Here, for example, you may counter resistance from a senior stakeholder to a point you are making by saying something along the lines of, I was at a focus group only last night and I can assure you that the frustration with the organisation’s website is something that is very strongly felt by your key customers.
Show empathy and touch the audience’s world
Finally, introduce a personal storytelling episode that demonstrates some empathy. It is about touching the audience’s world. Audiences often feel apprehensive about a presentation because it may threaten their sense of control or competence, or challenge their existing value and belief structures. So, bring some sensitivity and empathy to understanding how the audience might feel in receiving new information – why not share your experience of adjusting to a new situation.
It is about integrity, transparency and accountability
Ultimately the art of offering a personal opinion comes down to demonstrating integrity – ensuring that your point of view is grounded in a detailed analysis of the evidence. It is also about being transparent with the audience about how you have arrived at your point of view. And it is about being responsible and accountable – understanding the implications of making a particular recommendation.
If you would like more tips on the art of storytelling in business, you might want to refer to DVL Smith’s new book: The High Performance Customer Insight Professional: How to make sense of the evidence, build the story and turn insights into action which is available on Amazon UK and Amazon US in paperback and Kindle formats.