One of the things that we talk a great deal about in Toastmasters is the importance of capturing the audiences attention within the first 60 seconds of your stage time. We also spend a great deal of time talking about techniques that one can use to hold his or her audience’s attention. What we do not spend enough time talking about is things that a speaker may do that will cause him or her to lose his or her audience’s attention and presenting a great of statistical and other numerical data in its raw form is one of those things.
Numerical data is a very powerful tool and its use is essential to the success of most oral presentations. No, I am not contradicting myself. It is essential to the success of most oral presentations when presented in the right manner. It almost certainly assure the failure of a presentation when presented in the wrong manner, when numerical data is presented in a strictly numerical format.
Presenting numerical data as numbers during a strictly oral presentation is not only hard to comprehend, it is even harder to remember. That is the bad news. The good news is that there are a few simple things that a speaker can do to make numerical data easier to understand and easier to remember. I will only touch briefly on a few of them in this article.
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
The adage “A picture is worth a thousand words” refers to the notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single still image. It also aptly characterizes one of the main goals of visualization, namely making it possible to absorb large amounts of data quickly. When presented orally, a series of numbers as numbers can be hard to comprehend. It is difficult to visualize them and to see how they relate to one another, yet speakers must be able to do just that. The answer to this problem is to present the information using a variety of graphs. Present your numerical data using bar graphs, pie graphs, line graphs, picture graphs, and so forth. Graphs and pictures will hold your audience’s attention and help them to understand and remember the numerical data being presented to him. You may remember hearing about the “Learning Pyramid” in school. You may recall from that pyramid that people only retain 5 percent of what is presented to them in a strictly oral fashion. Retention is increased to 10 percent when the same data is presented in a written format. When that same data is presented both orally and visually, the retention rate jumps to 20 percent. The use of graphs presents the same data that the speaker is presenting orally in a visual format that is easy for the audience to understand.
Get your audience involved in your presentation
Take your presentation to the next level—move from the passive to the active or interactive. In the passive mode of presentation, you do all the talking while the audience, we hope, listens attentively. In the active mode of making a presentation, the presenter gets the audience to actively interact with him or her. One of the ways a speaker can do this when presenting numbers is to as the audience questions that require some kind of response, rhetorical questions, a statement in question form, questions that do not require a response, do not work well here. Depending on the subject of your presentation, you might ask your audiences questions like, “how much money would you like to earn” or “how much money would you like to save” or other similar questions that require a response from the listener.
Get the numbers right
We are all human and being human we are all prone to err. We may stumble over a word here or there during our presentations and our audience will understand and forgive us. We may mangle a pronunciation of a word or two. Again our audience will understand and forgive us. Your audience will not understand and forgive you if you get your numbers wrong and they catch your error. Instead of understanding and forgiving you, what they will do is to begin to question all the other numerical data you have presented to them. Get your numbers wrong and let your audience catch you, and trust me they will, you might as well shut up and set down because you will have lost your audience. For those of us who also write for major publications, those publications have fact checkers whose only job is to make sure that the facts we claim to be facts are correct before our article sees print. As speakers, we have to be our own fact checkers and need to take the time to double and even triple check all our facts, especially numerical facts. If there is even the slightest chance that you will get the numbers wrong, use notes.
Try it, I guarantee that you and your audience will love it.
Apply these ideas to your next presentation that requires the presentation of complex numerical data and see for yourself how much more successful you presentation will be.
By the Numbers