Maybe it is just me, but I start to hyperventilate when I see a wall of numbers. I then experience a rapid slide into narcolepsy when they say “Oh, the text is a little small… you may not be able to see this at the back.” If you are numerically impaired like me, this is your worst nightmare.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Here are three ways  to bring your facts to life and make your stats sing.

1. Make them visual

Professor Edward Tufte, a pioneer in data visualisation challenges us to do away with ‘chartjunk’  and communicate with data rich illustrations. A good starting point when using PowerPoint it is to make use of the SmartArt  tools to create diagrams and models.

If you still feel the need to show the whole shebang, consider putting a semitransparent box over the irrelevant information and enlarging the data you want us to focus on. Or you may want to try PREZI which enables you to zoom in on specific information and see its relevance in the big picture.

I cover these skills in my “Escaping PowerPoint Purgatory” course – contact me for more information.

2. KISS (Keep it simple, silly)

In business communication clarity is king. Your Ph.D. tells me you’re smart… Now show me how smart you really are by explaining it in a way that I get it:

  • Eliminate jargon as it adds to my cognitive load and makes me feel dumb
  • Structure your presentation so it is logical and easy to follow
  • Simplify your graphs and diagrams so that they read like a billboard and I can see at a glance what you are trying to say
  • Provide ‘snacks’ – snippets of information that I can process quickly and easily
  • Put the detail in the handout.

William Butler Yeats said “Think like a wise man, but communicate in the language of the people.” This is not about dumbing down, it is about speaking simply and clearly and ensuring your message sticks.

3. So what?

Make your statistics meaningful. In their book ‘Made to stick’ Dan and Chip Heath tell us that in surveying their students after a series of speeches, 63% of the students remember the stories and only 5% of the students remember any individual statistic.

Several years ago I heard a speech delivered by a doctor from the American Cancer Society. It was shortly after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre. This is a paraphrase of what he said:

“September 11 was a tragic day in American history. But do you realise that we have the equivalent of two jumbo jets filled with people crashing into the earth everyday as a result of death caused by preventable cancers?”

He took the ‘thousands of people who die from preventable cancers’ statistic and related it to a number we could comprehend. He also added an emotional link that made it resonate and made it memorable.

A great example of ‘making your statistics sing’ is provided in the TED talk by Hans Rosling. If you can’t watch it all – just make sure you watch it to the five minute mark.   

Sharon Ferrier
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All Good Presentations Start With a Confident Speaker

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