The challenge of winning both the emotional and rational argument

Here are Six Tips for Insight Professionals who must stay true to the hard evidence but who also want to give their evidence an emotional kick. In this blog we look at how you present an evidence-based insight message in an era when, in a straight choice between emotion and reason, emotion usually wins. Just as insight professionals are getting to grips with using storytelling techniques to help get over their insight message the stakes have been raised. Increasingly we are seeing that the emotional argument triumphs over the more rational evidence.

We need look no further than the way US Presidential elections are won or lost, or the way the UK Brexit saga is playing out, for illustrations of the power of appealing to raw emotions.

Below we provide six tips for insight professionals who need to add some spice to the way they win the emotional argument, whilst also defending the faith and remaining true to the insight evidence.

Tip one: Do not present stakeholders with complex data centric problems – present intuitive visual solutions

It is important not to put in front of the audience evidence that comes across as a data centric problem that needs a lot of cognitive processing to unravel. Instead, focus on converting this into an instant, intuitive to understand visual solution. We know how successful management consultants have been in using simple 2×2 diagrams as a vehicle for getting over the data in a simple way that appeals to people who are more intuitive. They have always known how to tap into both the emotional and rational arguments.

Tip two: Touch the audience’s world and deploy familiar business heuristics that will engage and involve stakeholders

Focus on business heuristics – rules of thumb – that stakeholders use to make sense of the world. Demonstrate that you understand the measures that are close to their heart. For example, I heard that, at one of the major fashion brands, they look for shifts in their performance on being a cool brand as a predictor to whether sales will go up or down in the next quarter. In addition, tailor your language to the audience. Thus, with a finance audience, focusing on frameworks and metrics around the revenue and profit that a new product might generate will pay dividends. For a marketing audience focus on website traffic, social media likes, and landing page engagement.

Tip Three: Explain (some) aggregate statistics by employing the Hero’s Tale technique – telling the story through the eyes of an individual

It is helpful to tell part of your story through the eyes of an individual. This changes the pace from presenting aggregate statistics to looking at the topic through the lens of an individual. (This could be a modal customer or a character at the centre of the point you wish to illustrate.) This technique is one that film directors have deployed for many years. They take a major event and make it accessible by explaining their story through the eyes of an individual. An example is the film about the D-Day landings. This epic event is told through the lens of an individual soldier, hence the film title: Saving Private Ryan. This approach is also now commonplace in news reporting. Over the years we have seen a shift in the way that major news stories are told. Several decades ago, the BBC News, in reporting a war, would focus its coverage on the key macro geo-political factors in play. But today, the BBC also tells stories about conflicts through the eyes of individual soldiers or civilians.

Tip Four: Take a risk by introducing the counter story

Another way of getting through to an audience, that can work in certain situations, is to tell a customer story in a way that it challenges the organisation to take action. Here you would focus on the counter story. One example of this approach was to tell the following story to stakeholders of a telecommunications supplier that had built up a poor reputation for shunting customers with a query from one part of their organisation to another. They had a wake-up call when they listened to a recording (in the presentation) of a hapless customer desperately trying to seek a solution to their problem whilst being shunted from one person to the next. It ended up getting total lean-in from stakeholders, who were praying that the next person to pick up the phone at the call centre would take action, and not just shunt the customer on to another department! The end result was a complete overhaul of call centre procedures.

Tip Five: Introduce some Gamification into the presentation process

One way of engaging the audience’s emotions is to set up a quiz around your key findings. A very basic example would be to send out a communication prior to the presentation asking, Do you know how many (and the profile) of your grocery customers who spend more than £150 a week with you? Another approach is to set up more of a game. For example, introduce a fun scenario where Sally – a loyal customer – has been asked to play the role of CEO of the organisation for the day. You send out in advance her top suggestions for improvement in a video and invite stakeholders to prioritise the top actions they would take based on this feedback.

Tip Six: Introduce Personal Storytelling episodes – remember you are admissible evidence

This technique gives you an opportunity to explain how the evidence fits with your overall experience and expertise. It is legitimate to share your own personal views about an aspect of the research process or business challenge – provide your take on events. It is important to stress that these interventions must remain business-like and credible. This is not an invitation to tell obscure, self-indulgent, self-referential anecdotes, but it adds some emotion into the presentation. For example, you might want to explain how you felt about powerful comments being made in the focus groups you conducted. Or you may want to contextualise a compelling piece of quantitative evidence by sharing how you felt when you first learnt about this. These personal storytelling episodes – interventions – need to be carefully selected and positioned in your presentation. As you develop the craft of storytelling, you will be able to deliver these on a more spontaneous basis.

We believe incorporating some of the above ideas will help insight professionals be more influential – but in an entirely ethical, transparent and accountable way. It is about remaining true to the evidence but recognising that today we need to tap into how stakeholders not only think but how they feel, whilst also encouraging them to take action on your insights.

My new book, The High Performance Customer Insight Professional: How to make sense of the evidence, build the story and turn insights into action is now available on Amazon. This provides further ideas on how to create influential insight presentations that engage stakeholders on both an emotional and rational level.

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