Quantifying "Soft Skills" to Get the Most Out of Your Career (Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic) - KNN Ep. 117
Updated: Nov 20
Today, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic who was introduced to me via my good friend and podcast guest Luke Barousse. Cole tells stories with data. She is Storytelling With Data CEO and author of the forthcoming book "Storytelling with You: Plan, Create, and Deliver a Stellar Presentation" and best-selling books "Storytelling with Data: Let's Practice!" and "Storytelling with Data: A Data Visualization Guide for Business Professionals", which has been translated into a dozen languages, used as a textbook by more than 100 universities and serves as the course book for tens of thousands of SWD workshop participants. For more than a decade, Cole and her team have delivered interactive learning sessions sought after by data-minded individuals, companies, and philanthropic organizations all over the world. They also help people create graphs that make sense and weave them into compelling stories through the popular SWD community, blog, podcast, and videos. In this episode, Cole tells us how data people can quantify, what are traditionally considered "soft skills", where professional development intersects with career development, and how you as a data practitioner can maximize your career through communication.
[00:00:00] Cole: I think the ability to speak in a way that makes sense to someone who is not close to your work is an important and maybe undervalued or underprioritized piece of things oftentimes, and so it means, typically that when you are talking about your work, and particularly if you're going to be talking about your work to someone who is removed from it and somehow, right, you're presenting it or you're talking about it in a meeting to people who weren't intimately involved in the analysis or the project, then I highly recommend doing that ahead of time.
[00:00:46] Ken: This episode of Ken's Nearest Neighbors is powered by Z by HP. HP's high compute, workstation-grade line of products and solutions. Today, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic who was introduced to me via good friend and podcast guest Luke Barousse. Cole tells stories with data. Cole tells stories with data. She is Storytelling With Data CEO and author of the forthcoming book "Storytelling with You: Plan, Create, and Deliver a Stellar Presentation" and other best-selling books "Storytelling with Data: Let's Practice!" and "Storytelling with Data: A Data Visualization Guide for Business Professionals", which has been translated into dozens of languages. Used as a textbook by more than a hundred universities, and it also serves as the coursebook for tens of thousands of Storytelling With Data workshop participants.
For more than a decade, Cole and her team have delivered interactive learning sessions, sought after by data minded individuals, companies, and philanthropic organizations all over the world. They also help people create graphs that make sense and weave them into a compelling story through the popular storytelling with data community.
The blog, the podcast, and the videos. In this episode, Cole tells us how data people can quantify what are traditionally considered soft skills, where professional development intersects with career develop. And how you as a data practitioner can maximize your career through communication. I really enjoyed this conversation with Cole and I think you will too.
Cole, thank you so much for coming on the Ken's Nearest Neighbors Podcast this week. Obviously you an accomplished author after publishing three books. You've worked in the data domain. You have such a fun and cool story, which kind of relates to a lot of the content that, that you've put out and the books you've put out as well. So welcome and I'm excited to hear more and share your story with the audience here.
[00:02:41] Cole: Thanks, Ken. I'm happy to be here.
[00:02:43] Ken: Wonderful. So something I do to get. All of the listeners familiar with each new guest is, I like to do a little bit of an origin story. So where did you first get interested in data? Was there a pivotal moment where you're like, Wow, this thing happened and it, and it fostered this love in, in this domain? Or was it more of a slow progression over time?
[00:03:05] Cole: It's a great question and when I reflect back, I think math was, was where I started and how I got into data. And I chose math in school because it was hard and I liked the challenge.
And so I got a degree in applied math and then went from there into the banking industry as an analyst. And that was my first real encounter with data and I did fall in love. I just, there's something fascinating for me about the sort of the hardness of numbers and facts and figures, but being able to manipulate those in ways that can help you in the best way, right?
That can help you bring understanding to something and. Give that understanding to someone else. So for me, working with data turned very quickly into making pictures of data, right graphs, because I loved the creative aspect that that brought in and learned a lot through trial and error over time of what works and what works better and what backfires and how do you make a graph that can.
Make it so easy for someone else to see what you want them to see. And so I spent a number of years doing that in banking, in credit risk management, whereas building statistical models, but then also needing to communicate those to other people and executives. Spent some time in private equity from there.
And then I went to work at Google on the people a. Team and we at Google collected a ton of data about people, about our employees and future employees, and it was such a fun space to be because for the large part, we were the first ones looking at any of this data and so that. Core skill of being able to help other people interpret it worked very well in that domain as well.
And that was where I actually started to teach other people how to visualize data, and then eventually left Google to start storytelling with data which is the company that I work at today. Started out just as. Talking to whomever would listen about how do you think about design when it comes to the visual communication of data?
And then over time it's grown to, we're a small but mighty nine people, and we think of what we do as helping people create graphs that make sense. And going beyond just the data visualization into how do you then subsequently communicate what you now know to someone. So we do that through our workshops and our blog and our online community and our YouTube channel.
And of course the books you mentioned. But the third one, storytelling with You is just about to come out. So I got the first two copies off the press from the printer last week, and then it officially publishes at the end of September 2022. And that's available for pre-order now, which is super tight.
[00:06:02] Ken: Amazing. Well, you, it's fascinating to me. It seems like so many people. From more quantitative backgrounds fall in love with math because of its discreetness, right? A lot of the times there's a right and a wrong answer, and a lot of the times we can solve for something. There aren't that many mysteries associated with it.
And what I think a lot of data scientists, especially if they're coming from like a physics background or a pure math background, they find the conveying of information to be less exciting and less fun. Because there is no discreetness to it. There is this whole other area of the human condition of, of the storytelling and the other elements that, that go into getting someone to agree with you or see things your way or to just open their mind to, to the o other side of, of interpretation of any of the data that we have.
And I'm interested in if you know, in, in your, your story there, is that something you had to. Is that something you faced? Is that something you were like, Oh, I see this dilemma where I do have to convey this information rather than just like formula, formula myself into into success in this domain? And what was that like turning point like for you when, when you started to see that, Oh, this is how it's, people have to interpret this. It's just not how it is like it is in...
[00:07:31] Cole: Absolutely and I think what I was drawn to in math and that kept me interested in data is the logic that you, that there is logic you can put to it to solve things.
And when you look at it from that viewpoint, you can use logic. As you think about how you communicate as well, and it drives me nuts that that piece has historically been referred to as a soft skill which makes it easy for someone who's interested in hard science to just say, no, that's not for me.
But we limit ourselves. So much and our careers so much if we are that shortsighted because being able to talk about your work, to explain graph to someone else in a way that makes sense and not only makes sense, but gets them to care in the way that you care and that engages, if you can do that.
You're almost unstoppable, right? Because technical, and if you've already got the technical skills, then this other piece. You don't need formal training to develop in the same way that you know statistics. Somebody should probably teach you statistics at some point, right? There are things there. It's good to know and not just dive into data and hope for the best.
But. With speaking and with communicating, you have so many opportunities in your day to day to observe and learn and refine. And I think, you know, going back to your question of was there a turning point or pivotal moment, I think. When I started teaching, for me there was a big transition and transformation hap that happened there because when I started teaching people data visualization, I was very focused, hyper focused on the content right on the slides, and making sure all of my references were buttoned up.
And really making beautiful graphs, and over time I got really comfortable with that core content and then that left me some brain power free to observe communication and how that works and how people who were in my audiences would react to different things. Right. Do you see people leaning forward and they're engaged and they're smiling and they're nodding, or, you know, did you, do you see a stiffening in the audience, or is there a guy in the corner who's got his arms crossed and a scowl on his face?
And observing how different things I did from how I used my voice to how I used my hands and my body to where I positioned myself in the room. Could fully change those dynamics, which for me is profound, right? The way I speak can make the difference between someone else wanting to engage or not, and I find that both terrifying.
And like this superpower, right? Because once you figure that out and start to hone that skill, which by the way is super uncomfortable first, for someone who doesn't think of themselves as a natural presenter, I certainly never thought of myself as a natural presenter, right? I am your typical introvert who likes to be behind a computer in a room by myself with no other sound, and was like a shaking leaf when I'd get up in front of people at.
Like anything, it's through practice and doing it again and again and getting a little better at something each time that then you develop this skill, you know, just like you would develop the skill to code or visualize data or to do anything.
[00:11:13] Ken: You know, I. I'm interested, and this is probably out scope of outside the scope of either of our own body of knowledge, bodies of knowledge, but I wonder if being an introvert in some sense also helped you with observing those things.
Cause I'm very extroverted and if I'm in a room I'm like, A lot of the time, very much focused on what I'm saying and the delivery and those types of things. And I appreciate the crowd, but I'm not singling in on individual people and observations. It's very much like the crowd is a organism in and of itself.
It's like a sort of this joint consciousness, and I'm catering to the broad strokes of the audience. I'm trying, you gauge like, Oh, this was generally received well or not received well. I am speculating that maybe there's something in the introverted approach to that where you're very interested in individual responses to your. To what you're producing or, or getting feedback in that way. Do you think there might be something there or am I just projecting?
[00:12:18] Cole: That's interesting. I've never thought of it that way before. There could be. I don't know. Right. I have my lens on it and you've got your lens on it, but I have to imagine that anyone who goes into, whether it's a meeting or a presentation or you're just talking with a colleague, if you go into that thinking, I wanna practice how I'm doing something, or I wanna be conscious of whether I'm explaining things clearly.
I want to be observant about what types of questions I'm getting back. Are they, are they about the graph and how we understand things? Or are we actually talking about what this means for the business or for the decision? And when you're intentional about that, going into that sort of interaction or exchange, then you can pick up different things.
And I think for me I, for me, I believe it was that more than any innate sort of, I'm an introvert, therefore I'm gonna pay attention to these things. It was, as I started to realize, and at first it was inadvertently right? I'd take a step in one direction, but then actually see a response to that. And then.
And I've done this so many times, right? I've given thousands of workshops and presentations over the past decade, and so you start to be able to use your brain, I think, in other ways, right? Because there's not so much capacity that is all being devoted towards. Remembering what I'm gonna say next, or where do we go from here?
I've got that stuff down right? And the nerves have calmed for the most part. And so that leaves me some brain power free to really be observing and thinking about these other things. But I think even for, go ahead.
[00:14:00] Ken: No, no, no. Go. No.
[00:14:02] Cole: I was just gonna say, even for the person where if you're saying, well, yeah, but actually I tried that, it doesn't work for me. I'm still focused on myself and that's not going to work. Recording one's, self presenting is the single most painful thing to do, but also the single most. Powerful way to become really aware of how you are presenting yourself in front of others from how you use your voice to how you use your body, your posture, and that, I mean, that's my number one recommendation.
There's actually, there's a whole chapter in the deliver section of storytelling with you. Called practice to refine. And so the idea is practice to get really comfortable with specific content that you're going to be delivering so that you have some brain power free to be able to do some of these other things.
And so that starts by getting to know your content well, but then also recording yourself to understand where, where am I using filler words that I actually. Don't even hear when I'm talking to a crowd. But that are so obvious when you listen back to yourself. We, by the way, on the storytelling data team, we use, we use script, I dunno if you're familiar with the tool for Yep.
I use that too. Podcast editing. Okay. I love that. You can, you can take audio or video and it transcribes everything. Also does a frequency count of high. Filler words, and so I see that for all the podcasts and things like that that we do, but we also use that as a training tool across the team to understand what are our current crutches for filler words, especially because it kind of shifts over time.
I used to, if I think back early in my career, I had the worst problem and tried everything to curb it. I would be presenting to executives. Just could not pause for the life of me, I would fill every bit of space with sound , which meant a lot of ums and ahs and these things that just, they make you sound like you don't know what you're talking about, which was fully not the case.
Reveal nerves that you don't wanna make a parent and do all these things that take away. From the point that you're trying to make and the information that you're trying to get across, and I'd have my team listen in on the phone and count them, and I'd have to, I'd owe money for every filler word I used, but really recording myself and listening back to that has been the best way to pick up those things and see and hear how.
How they get in the way of what I'm trying to do and say and be able to stop them. And so I'll have post-it notes up on the sides. I actually don't today, but I'll remind myself now that we're talking about it. My current crutches are starting every sentence with, so. Fully unnecessary, and especially in a setting like this where I'm talking to someone else, I will end sentences with, right?
Which I think is meant to be conversational, but also is fully unnecessary. So I did it again. These things you pick up over time and then you start hearing them, but you also, you get to do things like get really comfortable with pausing. Which can be so useful in so many ways, but feels fully uncomfortable when you start doing it.
I'll do it on stage now. If I need to get people's attention back after something that happened or to really put punctuation around a point I'm going to make, right, I might pause before and then say the statement and then pause after, and that won't always be appropriate, right? In a business meeting or whatnot.
But having these sorts of things in your repertoire to be able to pull in and use as you're communicating just in the same way that you know, you know your different packages of code or you know, the different tools to be able to graph your data. Having a repertoire for how you subsequently communicate your work to someone else and how you communicate in general is so useful and will serve anyone in any career.
[00:18:01] Ken: I agree so much and the pausing thing is something I've personally worked on quite a bit. I think a lot of people are scared of silence. And if you look at any of the most powerful or, or really good speakers ever, I look a lot at past presidents. They are so good at using pauses to, to make essentially everyone hang on every word that you say.
So if you're filling something in, it's, it's this, like, you're, you're, you're waiting for them to, I mean, you're, you're filling it in for them. If you are. Using pauses effectively, they're starting to fill things in and really absorbing what you're saying, and then when you say something else, it either challenges that belief or confirms that belief that they've made.
[00:18:49] Cole: Yes, and i, and studies have shown that that actually makes things stick more as well, right? Because now that you've given them the opportunity to think about it before you filled it in, right. You've created. Anticipation on the part of those listening. So they're going to remain engaged. And now to your point, you've either confirmed what they thought, now they're super happy with themselves or you didn't.
And there's some thinking that's happening in a critical way from that, which is also positive. Yeah, all of this does great things, but it, you can use some. Tricks at first start to get comfortable with it, and then it becomes just part of how you speak. I notice when I, when I listen back to myself, I never used, I think I fully speak in a different way than I did 10 years ago, say, or five years ago, probably even, where you do a comparison video.
That would be funny actually. You know, I don't have so much video content from a long time ago. I'll have to find something though. But I have this very, it's, it's an a cadence that is sort of what it is, right? Where there's pauses and speeding up and slowing down, and it sounds very, I don't know, very me now which is a developed skill, but I used to, I can remember pausing and knowing that I'd need to pause, and particularly as I was starting to teach and needing to drive interaction across a group of people.
That that's a really hard thing to do at first if you are uncomfortable with silence, because if you give someone an instruction, they have to hear those words. They have to process those words, and they have to think about whether they're going to respond and if so, what are they going to say? So there's a leg that happens there that just needs to be silent, , and then someone will speak up eventually.
But I've noticed a lot of people. Tend to jump in before allowing a sufficient pause for other people to contribute. And I think it's that. It's that fear of silence. So what I used to do to get around this is, and I'd have notes to myself. I would count, count slowly in my head to something that felt fully uncomfortable, right?
10, or 20, and you do it and it feels really awkward the first couple times and then you realize, no, eventually someone's always going to speak up. And so I can stand for a fully uncomfortable amount of time in front of large groups of people now and feel totally fine with that. Which, you know, 10 years ago, Cole would've shuttered at the back.
[00:21:05] Ken: You're playing the urge to fill space of them rather than off of you. Right? So you're using their urge to do that, to actually answer the question rather than the other way around, which I think is kind of fun. Something I do in a very similar vein is, Focus on my breathing. So I'll count my breaths rather than count to numbers because that's gonna calm me down to begin with as well.
And people also realize that you need to breathe. So if there is a pause and a conversation, or if I don't know what I'm gonna say next, which happens quite a bit on a podcast setting, I'll just take a breath and people will be more comfortable with that than just.
[00:21:47] Cole: And you sound more thoughtful and composed as a result of that breath. What that breath also does is make sure that you are getting enough oxygen in your lungs to be able to project your voice and do other important things. As anyone who experiences voice shaking when speaking, breathing is the key to getting rid of that which. Hits everybody now, and then I still get nervous at times and have to remind myself to breathe.
[00:22:17] Ken: It's funny, once I start talking, the nerves completely go away. Once I hear my own voice, it's, it's totally fine. So, Well, I hear my voice. I don't particularly like the sound of my voice. I'm kind of indifferent to it now.
When I first started, I hated the sound of it cuz I would, you know, nobody's used to it. But now when I hear it coming outta my mouth, I hear so many recordings of myself. I hear all of these different things that I, for some reason, just feel like it's gonna be okay because in all the recordings I just keep talking.
Right? So if I had to start talking, My brain automatically connects that. I'm just gonna keep talking and it'll be fine. I don't really understand the, any of the psychology behind that, but I also do see so many parallels between the presenting journey and all of the things that, that I've worked on, on YouTube.
So something you're describing is how do I looking for feedback from reading the room and looking. Specific things. I am very carefully reading. My comments. I'm looking at is the feedback on the content or is it on something else? Mm-hmm. , most of the feedback I get is on audio quality. If for one, for one video, I use the wrong mic.
[00:23:27] Cole: Even with your really nice... I was going to say, you've got a really nice microphone in front of you.
[00:23:31] Ken: People let you know very quickly, and you see what's important. So on a YouTube video, one of the most important things is audio quality. I also look at the retention metrics and I see, Oh, people aren't watching this video, they're all tuning off on this one part.
I can be very localized and say, Hey, what, what was the issue here? Was it they didn't like the sponsor? Read? That I fumbled here. Usually I'm not super worried about that because it's a recording and I can, I can go back through the beauty editing. Yeah, exactly. But it's fascinating to see within that domain, this feedback loop that you can create. And I am fascinated by, and the pacing is very important. So on YouTube, you actually wanna speak quicker because you have to hold attention, and that's very different.
[00:24:12] Cole: I have a problem with that because I have slowed down for speaking...
[00:24:15] Ken: On purpose. Right? So have I, like my, my focus for, until I started content and on YouTube was to slow my cadence, make it as interpretable as possible because people can't rewind in real, in real time.
Or they, they can, On YouTube. The nice thing is people can speed up the videos if you really need to, but not everyone uses that feature. So it's a very interesting sort of song and dance and iterative process to see what you need to work on. I also started podcasting and a lot of YouTube because I felt the need to improve upon my communication skills.
My and that was the best way is I get economies of scope if I record myself and I. And I release it, I get some presence or I get to share the knowledge that I, that I learned, but I also get work on my own interpersonal skills. And the podcast is just Makes sense every single time, right? Is, yeah. I was, I was working with YouTube on my presentation skills and I feel pretty comfortable with that.
My storytelling skills. I'm pretty comfortable with that. But now the podcast, this conversation medium is a completely different ball. . You have to ask good questions. You have to really listen to what the other person is saying. So you can ask those good questions.
[00:25:31] Cole: Well and how a flow right, and a connectedness where it's not just haphazardly. Okay. Now let's shift to this other topic, which you can do a little bit, but flowing conversation is a lot easier to listen to.
[00:25:43] Ken: Well, exactly. And that's something. I look at any of the content that I produce is how do I make this as valuable to me in my real life as possible? And to be honest, these types of conversations are far more valuable to me in any other interaction that I would have outside than, than the general YouTube content that I make.
You can have a conversation with anyone and having a good conversation with someone is probably, in my opinion, one of the most. Influential skills you can have on your career. If you can sit down with your manager and have a really good conversation and out of it, you get exactly what you're interested in, but they're also entertained and they enjoyed it, and they want to have more conversations with you.
If. I think there are very few circumstances in your career where that's gonna, that's gonna go negatively, right.
[00:26:31] Cole: Right. That's ne Yeah. That's not a skill to not devel. Yeah. Too many negatives there. The the, and the more you talk and are observant about that, the better that you, the better you'll be doing it. One of the things that struck me as you were talking about how you look at YouTube stats and the podcast now that is very similar. How I think about audiences when I'm in front of them is, if you think about it, we're both collecting data and using that as an input for our own refinement. And so back to your earlier question on, you know, have you faced where people don't wanna focus on communicating because it's the, you know, it's not the hard science.
This is, I think, how you turn that around and how you make communication strategic and how you use data there in a similar manner as you would when you're doing your analysis or working on your project. When you think about if, if you can't. Communicate that to someone else, you're never going to have the impact that you otherwise could.
And so looking for opportunities where you can talk about your work to other people, and it can start out even just talking about your work to yourself out loud in an empty room and out loud is important there because of the connections and transitions that we form and the words we hear ourself saying, you know, recording that.
Back then maybe saying those words to someone else and having a conversation. All of these things, which can be normal day to day, something you do at your desk or interactions with colleagues can have a profound impact on the way you talk about yourself, on the way you talk about your work and all of that is going to have positive ramifications then in how you're able to communicate those things to others.
[00:28:26] Ken: This episode is brought to you by Z by HP. HP's high compute, workstation-grade line of products and solutions. Z is specifically made for high performance data science solutions, and I personally use the ZBook Studio and the Z4 workstation. I really love that Z Workstation can come standard with Linux and they can be configured with the data science software stack. With the software stack, you can get right to work doing data science on day 1 without the overhead of having to completely reconfigure your new. Now back to our show.
I think people would be surprised at how much thought provoking stuff gets dislodged when you say things out loud. I'm someone that if I need to make a breakthrough on a project or on something that I'm wrestling with, if I talk it out to another person, they don't have to say a single thing, but if I just talk through it to that person.
Yeah, I usually. Get something, this light bulb goes off and I say, Oh, oh, thanks. You know, thanks for all the advice, and then I can go on and do my work. But there's, there's something different about hearing our thoughts out loud. Maybe you process it with audio auditory system rather than whatever else is going on in your brain.
But that sort of shift of, of frame or that shift of, of mental paradigm has been instrumental in a lot of the success that I've had. I've, I. On YouTube, I started having phone calls with some of my, my peers who were doing really cool things and just the things we talk about. It just dislodges really cool stuff that.
people are now seeing in a lot of the content that we produce, which is pretty incredible. Yeah.
[00:30:04] Cole: Well, and you think about if you, if you hadn't done that right, you hadn't said those things out aloud, that wouldn't have materialized in that way. And you laughed when I said, say it out loud in a room by yourself.
But there's value in that. If you don't have someone to grab and I do this, people probably laugh at me. I walk around the neighborhood, I walk my dog. Talking to myself out loud the whole time because I'm trying out content and I'm connecting things in different ways, and yeah, it's just become part of the process, which is strange, but also highly effective.
[00:30:36] Ken: So I made a video a while ago and it got no viewership, but it's something I felt I really wanted to put out there is, I think it was called Why Everyone Should Start a Podcast. And the idea is that you're either having really interesting conversations with other people and you're practicing that skill, or you're talking out loud to yourself and you're recording it, and so you're able to essentially dissect your thought process.
You're able to. Talk about an issue that's relevant to you and potentially make breakthroughs there. You don't even have to release the podcast. Just recording it and having something there in my mind is a hundred percent worth the effort of what turning your phone on and pressing record. The barrier to entry is unbelievably low for you to get the value out of it.
To be perfectly honest, not a whole lot of podcasts have a ton of financial success or. Continue going or any of these types of things, but just the act of doing all of the things that it takes to produce a podcast are unbelievably valuable to you as a creator, as a communicator, as just a person in general.
And that's something I really like to stress on, and it's also concrete way to work on a lot of these things. I think touching on that, that earlier point of hard skills versus soft skills. And the ability to measure them, that that really comes out there as, as we make these less measurable skills, more measurable, that's where a lot of these breakthroughs come through.
I would like to, to sort of transition a little bit. We've, we've mentioned soft skills or traditional communication skills. We recognize those are important. . If we take that down a level to these more concrete things, what are some areas you see a lot of data scientists, data analysts, these technical people missing in that more communication skill related bucket?
[00:32:34] Cole: I think the ability to speak in a way that makes sense to someone who is not close to your work is an important. Maybe undervalued or under prioritized piece of things oftentimes, and so it means. Typically that when you are talking about your work, and particularly if you're going to be talking about your work to someone who is removed from it and somehow, right, you're presenting it or you're talking about it in a meeting to people who weren't intimately involved in the analysis or the project, then I highly recommend doing that ahead of time and in our workshops.
The longer ones will often do an exercise called the big Idea, where the basic point is you get a project in mind and you get really specific about who your audience is, and ultimately you get your idea down to a single sentence. And then we have people partner up, ideally with someone who they've never laid eyes on before, who will have absolutely no context about what they're going to be talking about.
And then you lead with the big idea, right? The. That is probably fully not going to make sense to this person who has no context. And that's the point, because now the types of questions that that person is going to ask, and they're happy to do so because they don't have any context, they're not meant to have.
Knowledge. And so they can ask simple questions like, why? Or, you know, have you tested that assumption? Are you certain about that? How do you know that? What does that word mean? What is that acronym? And can ask all of these questions, many of which your audience is going to have. And so I say this a lot, but when you think of the spectrum of familiarity you have with your work, You are at one end of that continuum, your partner who you've gone through this exercise with, or a friend who you've grabbed to play this role, they're at the other end of that spectrum.
Your audience probably isn't all the way out there with them, but they also aren't with you, right? They're not in your head. They don't have all the tacit knowledge that goes on that lives there. And so by having this conversation with someone who is much less familiar, it gets. Out of your head and thinking about how you're saying things, how you're explaining things that's not for yourself or for your project or for your data, but that it's first and foremost for the person on the receiving end of that communication.
And from there you can figure out, you know, where do you go? To be at a level that's going to make sense given what you know about your audience. And so I would say, I was going to say, especially for specialists in some field, but we're all specialists in some field, and along with that always comes specialized language that's not going to make sense to, you know, the person who's a few cubicles down or.
Yeah. Someone who's less close to it. And so going through this exercise will just help you be more aware of the words you're using and help you land on different ways to say the same thing, but get your point across better.
[00:35:44] Ken: I really like this idea of, of practicing and having exercises for these skills. It's very easy for us to go on lead code and improve our coding. It's very easy for us to go on Kaggle and improve our, our ability to analyze data or see how other people have done it. That's actually probably something that's really. Really missing. I would imagine you fill this in, in some of the seminars that you do, but having these case studies of, of Hey, do this, not that, and these communications is, is very powerful because I would like to think, a lot of technical people, they seek out examples online.
They say, Oh, I don't know how to do this. I'm gonna Google it. I know I'll get an example on Stack Overflow and I'll be able to see it. That searchability, that, that content, honestly, it's just really not out there as much. Compared to a lot of the normal things that we use, and I think that there's, that's why there's such a great value in, in the books you're writing and the content you're creating.
I will also say, I think that it's, it's a little bit funny. My most recent keynote that I, that I've been giving, the first part is about why mostly business stakeholders. More technical people don't communicate very clearly. So I came from management consulting. I come from a business background before I did my masters in computer science and went into data and something that was essentially beaten into us in business school, and I think it comes from the military, is this idea of a bluff.
So the bottom line up front, as you deliver the information like that, that that essentially summary, this is the main finding first. And if we think about it from a science perspective, , you do it the exact opposite, right? We have to go through the process. We review past research, we go through the methodology that we use.
Yeah, exactly. Before we do any of of the findings. And I think that reconciling those two, Like completely opposite ends of the spectrum of communication. Like, Oh, I'm gonna start at the beginning. The business person's gonna start at the end. Is, is one of the reasons why there is so much confusion and conflict is because Mo, you know, most data scientists I know think a story should start at the beginning rather than at the end.
and most business people I know think stories should be communicated at the end, not the beginning.
[00:37:58] Cole: Well, and I think it comes from, it comes from experience, right? Because to your point, if Yeah, if Bluff is what's emphasized versus when you've gone through an analysis, you've looked at data, when you retell that story, you're, you're likely to start at the beginning.
And this is where thinking about it, not from your perspective, but from the perspective of how do I make this work for. Audience can help shift things in really important ways because with your audience, you can think about things like, you know, what time constraints do they face? Are they going to want me to get to the point quickly, or do they want me to go through all of that detail?
What is their tolerance for level of detail? How much do they value data? Do they wanna get into the nitty gritty or are they more interested in big picture when you can get specific on who your. Is, you can think about all of these different things that you can tailor for them, and certainly how you approach the logic and the order of what you go through is important.
And there are different ways of doing that that can be equally successful. But even just by thinking about how we order things and having a. Behind why we do so in each instance is important. It's something I think we just often skip and we do things the way we've always done them because we've always done them that way.
That's not a recipe for success. That works maybe marginally well most of the time, but not very well any of the time. Whereas if we can be specific about, well, What are the constraints this time, right? What are the specifics? Who am I communicating to? What do they care about? What's my message? Are they likely to be accepting of it?
Do they have biases I'm going to encounter? What do I do with that? Are there other people in the group who might be able to influence? Can I get ahead with them ahead of time and pre-wire some of this so that it'll be an easier conversation when we get there? When do I show data? When do I get to my point?
And really thinking thoughtfully about how we communicate. Every time in every scenario, not every time in every scenario, but when it's important, you should do more of these things and not just fall into the habit of how things have always been done. Because again, that's, it's never going to exactly meet the needs of your situation.
It's like using the graph that comes out of your tool in a, in the default setting like, Okay, the data's there, but that graph's not gonna be effective for anything beyond you looking at it and knowing what's going on. It's a ton of decisions you make after that to then make that work to communicate to someone else. The same is true with everything that goes around that.
[00:40:34] Ken: Yeah, I agree so much. I think one of my biggest takeaways is, for example, with that communication example that I was describing, business people. For good reason, use that mode of understanding things. Starting at the end. In most business scenarios, they wanna be action oriented.
Like the first thing that gets them to making a decision is probably gonna be at a premium. Data people and scientists on the other hand, they don't wanna produce research that is inherently flawed or that won't work in the real world. So they have to go through all the steps and have all the caveats and those types of things.
And generally, I think a lot of good communication, like a lot of things are, like most things meets in the middle. And so essentially my, my recommendation outside of obviously getting to know your specific stakeholder, I recommend this thing called a business. So essentially you have three caveats that you can have that are very short bullet points, and then the bottom line, because there's gonna be some things like, Hey, this model won't work in this scenario, and if you're gonna try and use it in the scenario, we're gonna have issues.
but you know, that's a very small thing before to like couch the larger discussion of the, of the actual bottom line. And hopefully that's what this is all about, right? Is understanding your audience, meeting somewhere in the middle where both people understand and can relate and finding this common ground.
[00:41:56] Cole: Absolutely. When you can find that, that is, that's the epitome of where you want to communicate from because that is how you can either bring people along with you or they will bring you along with them, and yeah, you get to some resolution and some action hopefully. I will just say on that note, I am immediately skeptical of any model.
Always, always quotes works that we should always be thinking about the specifics. And that's the data person in you, right? And never, never taking anything as a hard and fast rule. It is similar to visualizing data. Going back to that there are, there are guidelines and there are guidelines, therefore a reason, but there are also.
Good use cases to go against what might be a common guideline. You just have to know why you're doing it and have thought about that in critical ways, and hopefully you're doing it in a situation where you are likely to be successful as a result of doing that.
[00:42:59] Ken: Yeah, I think something that is coming out of this conversation that I'm very interested in your thoughts on is where does reeducation.
A company or community intersect with re-education of the individual. So I don't, I think in some sense, right, it is our responsibility to communicate more effectively a as technical people on the other side. I also think it behooves other business people or other stakeholders that we're connecting with.
To figure out how to communicate with us a little bit as well. Is there some like meta concept that over archs, how people can communicate more effectively outside of working on their individual self? Is there like some system that can also help foster a lot of this more effective communication?
[00:43:50] Cole: That's a really interesting question and it makes me think of this question actually comes up or maybe used to come up for us more frequently on the data vis and communicating with data side, which was a question that sounds something like, should I create experts or should I upskill everybody?
And my answer always to that, Both if you can, right? Get everybody some access, some training, foundational knowledge so that everyone has the same vocabulary. They can talk to each other, they can hold each other accountable, give feedback in constructive ways. But then that there's value in particularly if you can identify people who have some natural proclivity and interest in the space.
Invest in them. Let that be career development. Turn them into your in-house experts, and I bring that up. Think you could take a similar approach when it comes to the communication piece and how people talk to each other across an organization that, yeah, there should be some baseline that everybody at the organization knows a foundation that everyone can build upon.
And then, I don't know. I wouldn't limit it though to those who have natural proclivity. And maybe it's because I never would've put myself in that camp. And so then I would've not invested in myself maybe in this scenario. But to. Yeah, I could think to make people aware of the power of taking the time to invest in yourself doing this because there's not, there's not a company training that's going to make you a good speaker or a good communicator.
This is something that I think needs to be. You need to be motivated at the individual level to do the sort of reflection and thought process and working to refine that's actually going to have an impact. There are things I imagine that companies could do, right? That would either force some aspect of that, or we talked about recording yourself earlier, right?
You could imagine where something like that becomes commonplace and helps in different ways, but the. If you're an individual who is motivated to get better in this space, you can look for opportunities to do so in your day to day or even outside of your day to day, and. Everyone will be better off as a result of that.
And so when it comes to then getting that to propagate through an organization, I'm always a fan of leading by example. And so by investing in yourself and by saying, this is important, I wanna take time to do this. And maybe it even means going to your manager and saying, I want to improve the way that I communicate, which means I'd like you to give me pointers or notes after I.
Talk at our weekly team meeting or I want you to sit in on that next meeting and give me three things I did well and three things you think that I could improve on. You know, if there is training or something of that sort that you think you would benefit from. Again, I don't think it needs to be formal, but some people learn better that way. If there's a book that might be helpful, for those listening, I just held up Storytelling With You.
[00:47:02] Ken: So I feel like there's this really intimate connection between, that you're describing right now between this sort of drive for personal development and ability to be effective in the workplace. Can you maybe describe how.
More concretely how personal development intersects with career development. And you know, I always look at it in terms of, hey, my communication skills that I'm developing to be a better person, they can also help me in my job. But there are there some other areas that are, that really highlight that? Cause I know your, your new book is, is a lot more about the personal development. Intersecting that with the communication skills aspect.
[00:47:51] Cole: Yeah, I don't know if there's a distinction for me in that way, because if you think about communicating, communicating is one of those things that we do in all aspects of our lives, right? We do it on the personal side and we do it on the business side. Very different from data, for example. Right. I do data on the business side. I mean, yeah, I'll pull data in now and actually, no, I don't, my husband and I always joke about this because I am so data driven. At work and not at all, or very little data driven in other aspects of life in terms of, you know, for example, if we're looking for a new movie to watch, he'll wanna go read everybody else's reviews and see the Rotten Tomatoes score.
And I don't care so much about what other people thought about the thing I'm thinking watching. I wanna know what I'm going to think about the thing that we're about to watch. And so yeah, data has a different role on the personal side than it does in the business side, but I don't know that that.
The same distinction when it comes to communicating, meaning I think anything you do personally to improve how you communicate, which might mean you know, striking up conversation with somebody new or putting yourself out there by going to some sort of networking event where you're going to be forced to introduce yourself to people you've not encountered before, that anything you do in that space is going to help you communi.
More adeptly on the business side and likely the things you do on the business side to communicate better will translate in positive ways on the personal side as well. So this feels like one of those areas that where it's where everybody's going to be better if we can all learn how to do this better.
And one of the myths that I am really interested in busting is this idea. Some people are just naturally good speakers, and when someone sees an adept speaker that it's too easy to say, Oh, they're just good at that, right? I could never do that. I'm not a naturally good speaker. I think that is a very misguided thought, right?
It's an easy way for us to say, Oh, I'm not gonna work on that part of myself because. All develop this skill and we can all continue to refine it. And when you see great speakers most often, they did not start out that way. Right. You're seeing them after what's often a ton of. Practice, or you mentioned presidents earlier, pretty sure.
They had speaking coaches and speech writers and all of this support that got them to the point where they could pause and say things where people were hanging on every word. Right? That they didn't just start out that way. And so to recognize the work that goes into it and then say, yeah, and that's work I'm going to take on.
I know I can be better as a person. I can be better in my career by investing in myself in this way. I think that that would go a tremendous way for helping anyone in their career, irrespective of where you're at in your career.
[00:50:58] Ken: I couldn't agree more. I personally have very little difference in my communication skills interpersonally with my friends than I do for business.
My friends used to joke in grad school that when I would present in class, I would talk very differently. They'd say, Oh, it's like presenting Ken versus versus normal can. And over time those two people have have merged in a very nice way. And you know, outside of maybe telling slightly different stories, Revealing less embarrassing things about myself in in work, in work settings, or maybe cutting out a couple words.
I look at it very much the same, like I want the people that I communicate with in the work setting or in my personal circles, I want a couple things from them. I want them to like me naturally. I want them to listen to what I have to say. And I also want them to, to have some sort of respect for what I say and like see things clearly from my perspective.
That's like a very selfish, self-centric approach. But like the other side of that is, no, that's such, go ahead. Yeah. Oh, sorry. The other side of that is if I want them to like me or to respect me, do any of these things, I have to empathize with them. I have to understand their perspective. I have to know what they're gonna find interesting in those conversations as.
[00:52:16] Cole: Yes. You have to do thoughtful things to make that happen, which is such a good reflection point. There's actually, there's a whole chapter in storytelling with you on how to introduce yourself, which becomes an interesting almost case study where you can apply all of the other lessons and strategies that I go through because you can apply them to yourself.
And I start off the exercise with. Think about who you want to be when you are a speaker in terms of if you just talk to your audience, you just gave the most incredible meeting, or had the most incredible presentation, or you know, you just wowed your colleagues when you talk to them. How would they describe you?
What are five adjectives that they would use to talk about you after that stellar thing? Then you can take those and say, all right, if this is what I want to portray, right, and maybe that's a slightly different list so you can adjust it there. Then what combination of experiences and work history and projects and stories can I pull together that will help me demonstrate those things to others?
and in the book it's a very concrete do this step, do this step, do this step where you go through this process. And I went through it for the case study of the book and I've been through it before for myself. My whole team's gone through it. And so of just being really thorough with how you think about how we, and plan and create the story.
You which is a great way for the person who doesn't have an important presentation, eminent to be able to still practice a lot of these lessons and pull them together in a way that's going to be useful in so many different scenarios. Because once you've got the robust picture of it, then you can chop it up and you can pull out pieces and you've got that quippy two sentence thing to say at the networking event or you know, your 10 minute spiel for when that makes sense.
And you can adjust it in different ways for different audiences or for different venues. And so I think it's something that we don't spend a lot of time thinking about and yet is something that we can use to learn how to speak about other things as.
[00:54:31] Ken: Oh, a hundred percent. You know, there's, I think, a concrete example. Some, some, a lot of people, probably my girlfriend won't be super happy that I'm saying this, but when I would have, historically, before I got really comfortable with the stories that I would tell, I wrote down all of the interesting stories that I had in my life that might be like, entertaining at a party or it might convey something interesting about me.
And I would rehearse them, I'd practice them. And I would know that in this scenario, I would test them. I'd say, Oh, with this group of friends, like this story did really well. And when I meet new people, I can expect if they're of of this group or if they have these interests, I could tell this story and it would be effective.
And people don't realize how much planning can go into effective communicating and in building these relationships and. Some people might say like, that's weird that you're doing that, or that's, that's, that's like strange or that's inauthentic. But no, that's as authentic as it can be. It's that, Hey, I want other people to.
Have a good impression of me. I wanna share my best self with these people. I share my best self by communicating stories that I know well and that I think will give this good impression or that showcase me in a way that I believe that I am. And I think that that's something that a lot of people don't realize they can do.
It's like, it's like you can practice these things. You can, you can, you can prepare for any of these conversations. And from the podcast I've learned, you can also steer conversations and directions that absolutely are interesting to you or that showcase your strength.
[00:56:00] Cole: Yes, and when you are legitimately interested in something and talking about it, that sort of enthusiasm is contagious. And so when you can direct that at yourself and share anecdotes or stories, when you can direct that at your work and talk in a way that makes people wanna listen, all of this stuff will help you get your point across and hopefully drive action based on the work that you're.
[00:56:28] Ken: Amazing. Well, Cole, we're coming up on time here. Where can people learn about you? Where can people learn about the new book? And is there any last last things you'd like to share about your experience as an author?
[00:56:41] Cole: Sure. So check out storytelling with data.com where you'll find all the things I listed off at the beginning. We have, ill link it in the description. Workshops coming up, great workshops coming up at the end of September, 2022 in Milwaukee at the end of October, 2022 in London. Those have some really fun, special celebratory events. Around the new book, as well as our classic one Day Storytelling with Data Workshop storytelling with data.com. You'll find all of our, you know, YouTube blog related resources there.
Also encourage folks listening to check out storytelling with you.com, where you can download sample content. You can pre-order the book, which will be out in a few short weeks. And I think I would just leave folks by saying that. The more you invest in yourself when it comes to how you speak, how you speak about yourself, how you speak about your work, practicing this, refining this, that your potential is unlimited. So I hope that after listening to today's conversation that you will take some reflective time to do just that.
[00:57:50] Ken: Amazing. Thank you so much again, Cole. This was an incredible conversation.
[00:57:54] Cole: Thanks for having me, Ken. I had fun.