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...

Podcast: PowerPoint Tips Every Facilitator Needs to Know on The First Time Facilitator

Thomas had the opportunity to be interviewed on a Brisbane-based podcast called the First Time Facilitator. It’s all about the art and skills required for facilitators, trainers and anyone running workshops. The host, Leanne loved Thomas’ passion and expertise in PowerPoint and presentation skills and knew he had to come on the show and share…
Read More

Three Steps to Save Your Audience From ‘Death by PowerPoint’​

We’ve all been there: wishing for death’s cold embrace as we endure a PowerPoint that should never have been created. While a lack of design or even too many slides may be forgivable, the biggest problem is far too much content. How do we go about making sure we keep the content down? Simply put,…
Read More

How to encourage your audience to take action

How do you encourage your audience to take action when you present? Starting a productive conversation is so much more valuable than simply providing information. Here’s how. If your team could use some help with presenting, let’s have a conversation. Connect with me below or email me at [email protected]
Read More

How To Present For Different Learning Styles

You’ve probably heard about adapting to different learning preferences when presenting, but what about different learning styles? Here Kate discusses adapting to rule learners or example learners! If your team could use some help with presenting, let’s have a conversation. Connect with me below or email me at [email protected]
Read More

3 Public Speaking Tips From Stand-Up Comedy

For those of you who haven’t been following my illustrious stand up comedy career, I’ve been trying out my skills at my local open-mic nights. With my background in public speaking and inherent hilarity, what could possibly go wrong? Honestly, I’ve had a blast with the performances I’ve given so far, with the highlight being…
Read More

5 Tips to Instantly Present Your Data More Effectively

Data presentation done well can empower decision makers to visualise and understand difficult concepts or relationships, or to identify new patterns for actionable insights. Done poorly, it can muddle and confuse, or even worse, lead to poor decisions based on your good data. Well-designed data visuals are concise, clean, and focused on the audience. This…
Read More