How to Make an Audience Connect with Cold, Hard Data

Data is an important part of any business, forming the basis of effective decision-making. To make this a reality though, the information needs to not just get to the decision-makers, but they need to understand what it means. So how do you avoid bombarding your audience with facts and figures, leaving them stunned and without an understanding of what it all means? The answer: Emotional direction.

Many moons ago, I worked as a financial data analyst. Each month, I would present budget and forecast information at departmental meetings. Yes… it was exactly as exciting as it sounds. When I first started out, I had no presentation training and no idea what I was doing. I would diligently work through each line item, telling what I considered to be the crucial information. And each month I would receive the same blank stares, until we got the overview of what was going on. Then I’d ask for questions and invariably be bombarded with requests to go back over a bunch of the same line items I’d just run through. I would be frustrated because – come on guys, I’ve already gone over this!

What was I doing wrong? Why weren’t these people following along with my beautiful bar graphs and well-spaced tables? And it wasn’t just me. I would see this happening when others presented their information at monthly meetings that I attended. A graph would be displayed then the presenter would talk in what seemed like another language, until they finally told us what the graph meant at the end. Then some of that gobbledy-gook started to make sense, just before they moved on to the next graph. By the time the following month rolled around, I would forget what all the graphs represented, and we would go through the exact same process, with the audience not fully understanding what was going on.

Eventually, I realised the truth. They didn’t care about the detail until they knew the overall status of the budget. They needed context to be able to properly process the information I was giving them. Did they need to worry that X was lower than forecast? How much impact did having a high Y really have? What I needed to provide them was emotional direction.

I saw a huge change in my audience once I started to provide this direction at the start of my presentations. I was saving time because there were less questions at the end. People were more engaged with the data and their faces showed, if not excitement, at least something more than a blank stare of incomprehension. They could relate the information to the emotional direction that I’d given them, letting them make the connections between the cold, hard data and how it affected them.

If you’re delivering numbers, start at the top, not the bottom. Provide context and an overview and THEN delve into facts and figures. It’s easy to forget that because you can see the big picture, the numbers make a lot of sense to you. But you need to provide that big picture for your audience and give them the emotional direction, first.

More posts you might like...

12. How to Deal with Difficult Audience Members During a Q&A Session

Here it is! episode twelve of The Presentation Boss Podcast! Unfortunately not every time you present, not every audience member is going to act perfectly by you. Sometimes you get a tricky audience member who has something to say and you’re going to get emotional. While we have a few stories and examples ourselves, we’ve…
Read More

11. The Key Communication Skill of the 21st Century with Julian Mather

Welcome to episode 11 Presentation Boss Podcast, a conversation with an expert. Thomas and Kate have a conversation with Julian Mather. His zone of genius is in how to use video to communicate in your business. He has the credibility, understanding and experience to back it up too! We’ve known Julian for many years and…
Read More

10. Speech Breakdown – Tina Fey’s Acceptance Speech of the Mark Twain Award

For episode ten of The Presentation Boss Podcast, it’s another speech breakdown! Your hosts Kate and Thomas are experienced not only as speakers, but as presentation coaches. They love finding the strengths and weaknesses in a presentation and explaining why they work or need to be considered. Here’s one of Kate’s favourite speeches. Kate has…
Read More

09. Jeff Bezos Banned PowerPoint at Amazon. This is How Everyone Reacted.

Let’s talk about PowerPoint! It’s episode nine of The Presentation Boss Podcast! Visual communication is an important consideration for any presentation. So naturally we’ve been drawn to this (at times heated) conversation about whether or not this headline about Jeff Bezos banning PowerPoint in Amazon Management meetings is admirable or a potential mistake. Having listened…
Read More

08. The Art and Skill of Presence, Confidence and Charisma with Katrina Roberts

We’re at episode 8 of the Presentation Boss Podcast, and it’s time for another guest. Kate and Thomas are having a conversation with a friend of ours, Katrina Roberts about her zone of genius being in drama and speech. We have recently heard her talk a few times about presence, confidence and self-awareness and knew…
Read More

E07. Speech Breakdown – TED Talk by Joe Smith “How to Use One Paper Towel”

Here we are at episode seven of The Presentation Boss Podcast! Your hosts Kate and Thomas are experienced not only as speakers, but as presentation coaches. They love finding the strengths and weaknesses in a presentation and explaining why they work or need to be considered. And so, here’s another episode where we listen to…
Read More