It is frustrating not to be understood. To have to repeat yourself, over and over again, and still get the same questions, over and over again.
As an IT expert, this happened to me all the time when I was talking with someone out of my domain of expertise. Like when I was discussing how to automate a business process with a business specialist who thought a computer would solve all the issues by itself, almost magically!
In the field of data science, it might even be more frustrating! Almost all data scientists I know told me how business people, marketing teams and CxOs are inexperienced, full of dreams and full of misconceptions about what data science is and what it can bring to a business. (Magical I’ll-solve-everything-computer anyone?)
I think all experts face similar situation of misunderstanding regularly. I also think, of all technical experts, data scientists are among the ones facing the most difficult task in explaining the results of their work. Simply because their work mixes advanced computer science technologies with statistics. Two fields that most people don’t understand much as of today!
Add to that the media oversimplifying terms like artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data or data science (sometimes unknowingly, sometimes to create fear,) and by doing so, creating even more confusion in minds of people who don’t know about the domain.
As a data scientist, I know you work hard finding, cleaning, analyzing and modeling data, and discovering valuable insights. But presenting the results of that hard work is what most people will see of this work! It is like the tip of an iceberg.
Unfair, I know.
Unfortunately, most data scientists, like any other experts, suffer from the curse of knowledge: not knowing anymore what it is to *not* have the knowledge you do have. Hence, they assume other people will just get it; and they spend little time on preparing the presentation of their gems, little time to make them shine with importance and significance.
But the curse of knowledge is not final. It can be cured!
Communication, presentation and persuasion skills are exactly that: skills. That means they can be taught and learned!
During all my career, every time I could, I always made communication a topic of first importance; making sure non-technical people, as well as experts on other technologies, understood the underlying technologies a project was using was one of my goals.
That led me to study presentation techniques, neuroscience, graphic and slide design, psychology of persuasion and influence, and visual communication. This also led me to a deep sadness when I realized how often a lot of educators broke, without knowing it, their principles every time they can.
As a computer science engineer, passionate about the field, I can deeply appreciate and marvel at the technological tools we have available at hand today; those were mostly theory and dreams when I was in my studies!
And as a communicator, I regret that the results we achieve with these technologies are far too often presented ineffectively. I also regret how little education there is about the simple tools we can all use to communicate successfully to non-experts.
My hope is to help fellow technological experts to learn the most effective tools and to improve their skills; I want them to be as effective when working on the tip of the iceberg, as when they are working on all the underlying, more complex and thoughtful, immersed steps.
It is thus my pleasure to announce a set of conferences and workshops that I’ll run, in partnership with DigitYser, to help data scientists to persuade non-experts with their data insights. We’ll work on and explore how to defeat the curse of knowledge, how to leverage the way the brain works to our advantage (ethically,) how to find and tell the stories of our data, and how to create clear, simple, beautiful and accurate data visualizations.
So stay tuned and sign up for the upcoming conferences and workshops about dealing with the tip of the iceberg, and save time on the presentation mistakes you’ll avoid in your career.
Guest post written by Alexis Brouard.
After 15 years as an IT engineer, Alexis is now a coach and trainer for techies in presentation skills, slide design, visual communication, and team collaboration. In addition, he’s also a performing magician and an improv theater comedian.