{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: Storytelling With Highly Technical Content

In this episode of In-Ear Insights, Katie and Chris tackle a recent question: “My struggle is how to create connection, emotion and story from highly technical content. Any advice?” They dig into customer behaviors, user stories, and other tips & tricks you can use to lift your technical content up. Tune in to find out how to do the same for your content!

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{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: Storytelling With Highly Technical Content

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Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript. The transcript may contain errors and is not a substitute for listening to the episode.

Christopher Penn 0:02

This is In-Ear Insights, the Trust Insights podcast.

In this week’s In-Ear Insights, we have a huge bag of questions from recent events, Katie, so I figured we, we spent a couple weeks tackling some of these, we’ll put we’ll have to do like a lightning round show.

But this one’s from Lacey, who is my struggle is how to create connection, emotion and story from highly technical content and data.

What advice do you have for creating something telling a story out of stuff that, frankly, is a little boring?

Katie Robbert 0:38

You know, it’s, this is an interesting question.

Um, I was recently helping one of my clients conduct account manager interviews, and there was a very, very similar question that we asked the candidates, which was along the lines of, you know, how do you find a personal connection to campaigns that you’re just not interested in, because there has to be that kind of connection.

And so it almost kind of turns into, like this challenge of you finding like the humor in it, or, you know, is there some sort of relatable analogy or something like that.

So, you know, it’s not necessarily appropriate to turn like, you know, the data around Coronavirus, or cancer or something like that into a funny amusing story.

Like, that’s not what I’m saying at all.

So please don’t do that.

But finding sort of that personal connection, it’s, it’s sort of the same way that you start to understand how empathy works.

And so there’s listening, and then there’s active listening.

So listening is typically just waiting for your turn to talk.

Active listening is really engaging.

And as someone’s talking to you, you’re almost kind of trying to step yourself into that person’s shoes and see things from their perspective.

So it’s still not about you.

But you are the one who were who is doing the work to understand where the other person is coming from, and why they are saying what they’re saying.

And so when you are writing about something that might be dry and technical, your best bet is to think about who’s the audience who cares about this thing? Why is it important to them? Because you’re writing it for a reason you’re writing it for someone who needs to know this information.

And so thinking about it from their perspective, you know, putting yourself into their shoes, what do they need to get from this? Is it a life saving technology? Is it a cutting edge technology? Or is it just something that helps, you know, keep things moving forward? Regardless of the reason, trying to understand it from your audience’s perspective will help you start to connect to the information a little bit more and why it’s important, rather than you just writing something that you feel is super dry? Well, what’s your take on that Chris? Because you write about a lot of technical no and and I don’t I wasn’t about to stay dry.

But you do write a lot of technical content.

So how do you find connection to it?

Christopher Penn 3:08

I think that’s you pull out some really important points here connection emotion story are three different things.

And so you know, it’s it’s kind of tough to bundle all three together connection, it actually get that from you.

Because one of the things you say all the time is so what right is connection is putting yourself in the shoes, the customers empathy.

So what what does this mean to them? If I’m looking at, you know, this paper that Google has on time to event data driven attribution, and then they go through all this whole algorithm, you know, in homogenous Poisson processes at the end of the day, the question is so what what does this have to do with what I care about as a marketer? You know, what, how does this thing impact me? and reading through this paper going, Oh, Google has switched attribution models because the one that we use Trust Insights is good at the channel level but they want to know how an individual ad like the lift of any one individual ad must have they needed a new system like oh, that’s the so what it’s for Google’s benefit not us.

I mean, it does benefit us indirectly but Google did it to benefit their ad system.

That’s the connection part.

The emotion part is once you understand the so what, then you can start to say okay, well how would this make the person on the receiving end of this feel right? How would they feel about knowing this thing was happening? So when we talk about you know, all the stories about social networks behaving badly and stuff, well, how does that make us feel? Not great.

As a result, we can pull out that emotion and then once we understand the feeling, that’s when you can then construct a story around it because if you the ideal of a story is that you have sort of these these peaks and valleys to tell a good story like a story that just has no emotion is kind of a flat tone is really what I think Lacy here is trying to avoid.

And so if you follow that, that process of so what and why? And then what next? And how do you tell? How do you? How do you guide that emotion from presumably, whatever the problem is that feeling of unsettledness to hear, so I can guide you to a place of feeling like you’ve, you’re safer or you’re more secure or you’re happier or something, you that’s how you find a storytelling structure.

So I think there’s, you have to tackle those three pieces in order in order to be able to do that.

Now, how do you do that does require, it requires a couple things requires empathy, which is challenging, especially in situations where you are under a lot of pressure.

And you know, the, the more you’re in survival mode, the less empathy you have.

It’s just how humans work.

So if you’re constantly to 44, deadlines, and you just got to crank stuff out to get, you know, check things off the list, you’re not going to create great emotional content, you’re just not.

And it also requires domain expertise to when somebody says, here’s the, you know, here’s what homogenous Poisson process and how it difference differs from a Bernoulli process.

You got to know what those things mean.

Because if you can’t,

Katie Robbert 6:16

yeah, I was like, Wait, what?

Christopher Penn 6:20

You can’t tell the difference between those two things you can’t, then you can’t even understand the connection?

Katie Robbert 6:25


Well, you know, and I want to go back to the point about empathy.

And you’re right, it is hard.

And, you know, empathy is one of those skill sets that people want to say they have, I’m an empath, or I’m very empathetic, or I understand my audience.

But a lot of times what I see happen is empathy is confused with, I guess, selfishness and narcissism.

Because what ends up happening is, so Chris, let’s say you’re telling me a story about, you know, uh, I don’t know, let’s say, you know, you had a really bad fall over the weekend, and you twisted your ankle.

And so now it’s affecting you negatively? Well, my job as someone who is supposed to be empathetic is to listen.

And, you know, really, and that’s it.

That’s it, end of story.

That’s the end of my job.

But what ends up happening is people try to make that connection by jumping in with their own story about themselves.

Well, I also fell, and you know, I smashed my knee against the floor.

And I also feel really bad.

That’s not empathy.

That is not unjust.

That is not empathy at all.

That is not how you make a connection, because what you’re doing is then you are undermining the other person who is trying to share how they’re feeling what their experience was, by overriding it with your own feeling and your own story.

That’s not to say you can’t contribute, but stop making it all about you.

Because what you’re doing is, again, you’re not active listening.

You’re just listening, for your turn to talk and make it all about you.

That is not empathy.

And so I just want to sort of clarify that point, as people, marketers who ever are trying to understand how to make a connection with their audience.

And so tell you starting a conversation, telling an anecdote about yourself to open up the conversation, that sort of set the tone for other people is one thing, but if someone comes to you, and it’s like, I need to tell you this thing, I want to tell you the story about me, in my experience, your job is not to turn around and go, I fully understand I’ve been there.

Let me tell you my story.

That’s not empathy.

Christopher Penn 8:43

Empathy is one of those things.

It falls in the category if you have to say it about yourself.

It’s not true.

Like it’s just other people to say about you.

Oh, that person is so such so empathetic.

You saying it about yourself? Like I said, it kind of defeats the point.

But more importantly, I think, if you if you do have that story, like one of the things we say about machine learning in particular is that machines cannot have empathy because they can’t understand because you don’t understand you can’t then take action on it if you fell and injured your ankle.

And I’ve also done the same thing.

The logical, you focused thing to do would not be to tell my story, but to remember, oh, here’s the things I went through and ask, Hey, do you need anything like when I did that I needed a cast for a couple weeks, a whole bunch of like DDB Advil, but it’s that taking the action to help you and with your content, marketing and stuff, and highly technical content.

One of the challenges in addition to the normal marketing challenges just talking about yourself all the time.

You then have the additional egos of the highly technical things.

People saying, Well, you know, we’re gonna explain this and show off just how special we are.

And that makes the technical content even worse,

Katie Robbert 10:07

you know that, I’ll be honest, that tactic makes me crazy.

Because it’s, and you know, I may be in the minority here, but making things technical, just to make them technical to show how smart you are, I feel like is the absolute wrong way to bring people in to understand it, because then they have to then read five other things in order just to understand the one point that you were trying to make.

So you’ve made it harder on your audience.

Whereas I like to just explain things exactly how they are, and how you as the audience are going to benefit from this highly technical thing.

But let me break it down in such a way that makes sense.

Like, it doesn’t matter if it’s highly technical, is it going to help you? Or is it not going to help you? And if it’s not going to help you? Why am I trying to impress you with all this technical jargon, that is meaningless to you anyway, because then you’re spending your time trying to figure out if it means something to you.

And clearly, I feel very strongly about this, because now I’m ranting.

Christopher Penn 11:06

But I mean, it comes from insecurity, right? I’ll say that, as a person who has done that to other people, it’s because I, at the time, felt insecure that I’ve that I didn’t necessarily know what I was talking about was trying to hide behind the technical knowledge, because I actually didn’t know what I was talking about at the time.

And now looking back going, Oh, well, it’s kind of like watching, like watching a sushi chef, right? Like a really, really talented one.

Just has such a minimal amount of motion, right? They just do the thing, and everything just comes out perfect.

Cuz if so much experience, so much knowledge, so much time to doing the thing, that their movement is so refined, it’s it’s art in itself.

They don’t need to show off.

They don’t need to showcase just how good they are telling you how good they are.

They just do it.

And you look watching.

Uh huh, you’re really good at that.

And that’s with technical contents, kind of the same thing.

I struggle with that just, you know, in not knowing where another person is, right.

So that’s one of the challenges for me with technical content is someone will say, Hey, I had this trouble with our friends at marketingprofs.

They said, We want an advanced analytics course.

I’m like, great, I created this course.

for them.

And you install Are you install a bunch of packages, you write some code, and you’re all set.

And that to me is advanced analytics.

But I didn’t ask what is the advanced mean to you? Right? It turns out that is beyond advanced that is into like, honestly, it’s intercepted profession, right? It’s now when you’re actually in data science now.

So you’ve it’s you’ve left behind marketing, and I didn’t have the empathy to think about that and go, Hmm, this technical content is too technical.

It’s past.

So one of the challenges I know with technical content is not knowing where the odds is.

Because I can still make the connection Oh, if you understand that in homogenous plus on process allows for conversion tracking to operate better, because it’s more you can more granularly paste space out when conversions are happening from an attribution modeling perspective.

I can make that connection for me, but I, because I have the watching expression on your face when I say those words.


I don’t know what that means to you.

Right? I don’t know.

And I don’t know that you don’t know that.

Well, so called the curse of knowledge.

It is

Katie Robbert 13:33

the curse of knowledge.

And I think that, you know, there’s also this unspoken professionalism rule where, you know, when someone gives you you know, a task or a directive or homework or whatever the thing is, you know, you don’t ask them to clarify.

And you don’t ask them to clarify, because, you know, there’s this there’s this unspoken assumption between both parties that everybody knows what everybody’s talking about, and everybody’s on the same page.

And, you know, nobody’s gonna question it because we all have the same level of understanding right? Well, clearly, that’s not the case.

So did you know Chris, that there’s a way to get around this there’s a way to ask the question of what the heck are you talking about? Without saying, what the heck are you talking about? You want to guess what it is?

Christopher Penn 14:22

You have somebody in the room whose job is it is to play the play the foil I guess to say like, okay, explain that, like I’m five pretend that I’m a five year old explain this thing to me, like I’m a five year old and they have to be that person has to be okay with it playing that role.

But it’s, I know in past, you know, when we’ve had meetings, even with our team, you know, one or more people played that role and team intentionally, to force people me to explain things out.

Katie Robbert 14:55

I’m pretty sure that’s why you brought me on as your co founder because I typically play that role.

Without ego, I’m fine saying hey, I don’t get it, explain it to me.

Now, let’s say I’m not available to sit in the room, what you Chris could do with a highly technical person, and someone saying, Hey, can you give me an advanced analytics course, you could ask the person who’s giving you the assignment for some user stories? So that way you can have a better grasp of who’s the audience for this? And what do they need to get out of this? And so if they said, Okay, so user story is, as a marketing manager, I need to understand advanced analytics so that I can, you know, process my data in our, that gives you a sense of direction to say, okay, so it sounds like you want me to create a course around, setting up and processing data through our great that sexy sets the expectation, however, if they say, as a marketing manager, I want to take an advanced analytics course, so that I can understand how to set up an automated dashboard, that’s a different outcome, the outcome there is likely, you know, a Google Data Studio dashboard or something like that.

So that gives you the opportunity to ask more questions, like, okay, so you want them to be able to create an automated dashboard, it sounds like you’re after Data Studio, or you’re looking for something truly automated, like are into tableau, etc, etc.

And so it gives you the opportunity to understand better from the audience’s perspective, what they need to get out of it without you just sitting there going, Well, what the hell

Christopher Penn 16:37

that however, it requires you to talk to the audience, which a lot of marketers don’t do.

Katie Robbert 16:43

It does.

You know, in this example, you’re not talking to the audience, you’re talking to the people who assume they know the audience.

And so you know, that then that responsibility lies with, you know, that person, not necessarily, you know, you, but you could say, you know, have you talked to your audience? Do you have any feedback? Where did this come from? What kinds of questions do you get about advanced analytics, so that I can make sure I’m answering them in this course.

And so there’s ways to start to pick apart the Ask without saying, I don’t think you’re asking for what you think you’re asking for, or I don’t know what you’re asking for, because neither of those questions really get you very far.

But the art of asking, you know, for more information, to get into those requirements will help you put yourself in the shoes of the audience who is receiving the highly technical information.

And therefore, you know, that starts to make that connection.

Christopher Penn 17:42

It almost sounds like that would be the ideal thing to lead with on like a creative brief, you know, that’s to say, like, Hey, we’re putting together this piece of this, this white paper on attribution modeling.

And let’s go and get five or six user stories from a focus group, as as a way to guide that content, because you’re right, if somebody says, I’m looking at Google Analytics, and I’ve got set to last touch, which of these drop things in the drop down? should I use? You know, they are in no way shape before ready to talk about Markov chain modeling.

It’s just, it will mean nothing to them.

Katie Robbert 18:16

It’s true.

And so it, you’re absolutely right, as you’re writing or creating any kind of content.

What’s the so what what’s the objective? What are they? What kind of content? Is it? Is it educational? Is it entertaining? Is it both? What is the audience trying to get out of it, and who is the audience, and a user story will tell you all of those things, you know, and to your point, Chris, you may need to do a few of them to really understand the full, you know, spectrum of what this content is meant to cover.

But it will give you a direction to say, this is what I need to teach in this content.

This is what I need to demonstrate, this is what someone needs to get out of reading this piece of content.

This is why I’m creating in the first place

Christopher Penn 19:01

that will be a heck of a thing to even put on like contact forms and things.

So as people are filling out a contact form, having them actually fill out a Mad Libs style user story will be very interesting to get that from their perspective.

I’m thinking, we’re talking with one of our customers about, you know, their digital transformation efforts right now.

And we’ve had them, we’ve talked to some of the folks to try and have them do user stories.

And it’s been interesting seeing how much of a mismatch there is between what the user stories are and then what sort of the overall initiative is because the initiative was conceived before anybody got any input.

Katie Robbert 19:39

And, I mean, that’s a pretty common thing at especially enterprise companies where there’s a disconnect between leadership in the teams or amongst silos amongst the different teams.

And so starting with user stories, even if you know they’re far down the road of this initiative you’d like hey, Let’s just pull together a couple of user stories just to see if we’re on the right track.

And then it could present that lightbulb moment of Oh, my goodness, we are talking about the exact wrong thing, or, well, that person over there is going to sink themselves.

So good luck.

I mean, you know, whatever the reaction is, it’s still, it doesn’t matter what stage you start to create, obviously, ideally, you would do user stories before you do anything else.

But it’s never, just like we say, it’s never a bad day to start, you know, doing things like you don’t have to wait till January 1, it’s never the wrong time in a project, to check yourself and do a user story and say, am I on the right track.

So if you forgot to do it at the beginning, and you’re towards the end, just pull together a quick user story as a, who my audience is, I want to whatever the action is, so that here’s the outcome.

And then you can say, Oh, my God, I’m not even close to being on track, where can I start to pull this back, so that I’m, you know, satisfying this user story, or you may be too far gone.

So you can create a different user story that fits whatever the thing is that you’ve created, and then go back and create something different for the first user story.

That was the original intention.

Christopher Penn 21:14

And so in the context of Lacey’s question, how do you create connection, emotion and story? The user story, really, is the definition of connection, here’s why this is relevant to the customer.

Because if you don’t have that story, you know, I want to so I as as I want to, so that if you don’t have that, so that there is no connection, and then the follow on to that could be, and how will that make that person feel? Mm hmm.

And how do they feel now? And then what’s the story you need to tell get them from how they feel now to have that feeling that they want to get to when they’ve completed that user story?

Katie Robbert 21:53


And so if you know, back to the original question, if you’re writing a piece of highly technical or what you consider, in your opinion, a piece of dry content, think about the end user who’s going to be consuming this content.

And that will help you start to make that connection, because then you’re not necessarily just writing it to write it, you’re writing it through the lens of somebody is going to care about this thing, somebody is going to need to get something from this.

So how can I as the author, be the person to deliver that thing to them to make their life easier in some way.

Christopher Penn 22:30

So start with the user story for any piece of technical content.

And if you don’t have one, you can’t get one.

Perhaps go talk to some customers, and ask them what kinds of things they need help with, ask them to create the user stories just for the problems they’re trying to solve.

Regardless of whether your your product or service is involved.

You might be surprised at just how easy just how straightforward it is, to figure out a does your company play a role in solving that problem? And if it does, mapping that any final pieces of advice on this question, Katie.

Katie Robbert 23:08

Um, I mean, the big thing is, you know, it’s not about you, it’s about the audience.

And so, you know, stop trying to connect with it from your perspective, because you are likely not the audience.

And so, you know, try to make that connection.

And that’s that empathy piece.

You know, if you have relatable experiences, that is certainly going to help and you can certainly include some of those things so that you can do audience can see themselves in it a little bit more clearly.

But don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s not about you.

Christopher Penn 23:40

That’s right.

And speaking of not about us, if you want to talk about the things that you’re working on, and the user stories that you’re trying to tell hop on over to our free slack group, go to TrustInsights.ai dot AI slash analytics.

For markers we’re using over 2000 other marketers are chatting about all things marketing and analytics, analytics all day can ask questions, get answers to your questions and see what other folks are working on.

And wherever it is, you watch or listen to the show.

If there’s a channel you prefer to have it on.

With the exception of Facebook, you can find it over here at TrustInsights.ai dot AI slash ti podcast.

We’re on most channels like YouTube, etc, etc.

We can catch the show.

Thanks for tuning in.

We’ll talk to you soon take care.

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