My basic advice on using statistics is: tell stories instead. But I’m actually not a statistic abolitionist. Statistics can be effective in a presentation, under two conditions.
First, use them sparingly.
Second, find a way to describe the human impact of the statistics you use.
The first condition is pretty straightforward. I find that executives as a group really love statistics. That’s understandable, because statistics are vital when you want to know how your organization is performing. But putting too many statistics in a speech is a sure way to make audience members’ eyes glaze over.
While it’s okay to use a few statistics, don’t just drop numbers on the audience. Present the well chosen stats in ways humans can relate to.
For example, if you say that roughly 45,000 people die each year in automobile accidents, that number is so big, it doesn’t really register. But people will be moved if you make it more dramatic, by saying that is the equivalent of a fully loaded passenger jet crashing…with no survivors …every day for a year.
Or you can paint a word picture to illustrate the statistic: “The energy saved by this simple measure would be enough to power all the homes and businesses in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia for the rest of the 21st Century.”
Check out It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It by speech coach Joan Detz for additional ways to make statistics resonate..
In an earlier post on how to handle Q&A sessions, I warned that they can be risky, and I offered a couple of suggestions on how to cope. But the fact remains, if you finish with Q&A’s, the last words the audience hears from you will be out of your control. And as Angela DeFinis, a true industry expert in professional speaking, once told me, “That last question can lead your whole speech down a rat hole.”
No executive wants that to happen.
How to prevent it? DeFinis has a great suggestion: Be sure to reserve a little time for yourself after answering those pesky questions. Then step to the podium and deliver your final, final remarks. The last words your audience hears will be the ones you want.
Stories give your audience a direct experience of whatever it is you want your speech to convey.
Ian Griffin, Silicon Valley technology speechwriter supreme, recently posted an excellent piece on Professionally Speaking, his great blog. Griffin reported on a presentation at the Northern California Chapter of the National Speakers Association that analyzed the benefits of taking a “Hollywood approach” to writing and delivering presentations.
Hall of Fame keynote speaker and executive speech coach Patricia Fripp joined Hollywood story expert and script consultant Michael Hauge to discuss the importance of story telling in speeches. In particular, they demonstrated how vitally important stories are when it comes to eliciting emotions in an audience.
The whole post is a must read for speechwriters and executives, especially Hauge’s 10 Essential Elements of Every Great Story.
I’ve written hardly anything about the uses and abuses of PowerPoint simply because there are so many great articles, blog posts, etc. on the subject out there already. “Lifehacker” had a terrific one last year, and master marketer and blogger Seth Godin wrote a classic piece back in 2007.
Despite the easy accessibility of such great advice, however, just about every PowerPoint I’ve had to sit through has been at best pretty boring and at worst absolutely terrible. I’m beginning to think there is something about that presentation tool that brings out the worst in speakers.
Some big organizations apparently agree. NPR recently reported that. the CEOs of Amazon and LinkedIn have banned PowerPoint presentations from meetings. Former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates Gates wrote in his recent memoir that, as CIA director, he banned slides except for maps and charts. He wanted to do the same as Secretary of Defense, but couldn‘t.
So can PowerPoint be saved? Not according to one general, who summed it up this way: “PowerPoint makes us stupid.”
When executives are invited to speak, they are usually asked to take questions after the formal presentation. Q&A sessions are always a little risky, because they are out of your control. You decide exactly what you want say in your speech, but what listeners wants to ask is (usually) their choice. The good news is you can manage that risk and make Q&A time work for you, but only if you prepare. In the next couple blogs, I’ll offer some thoughts on how to do that.
The most obvious way to prepare is to work with staff or friends to try to anticipate possible questions (especially tough ones), come up with good answers, and then learn those answers cold. If you’re writing for an executive, make sure he or she is never “too busy” for that kind of advance work. If you’re the exec, make time to prepare.
At the same time, keep in mind that sharing your knowledge or opinions is only one of the goals of answering audience questions. Another important goal is showing that you’re a leader, someone audience members should take seriously. The best way to do that is to stay calm under pressure.
That’s true even if you’re asked a question that stumps you. Mark Ein, CEO of Venturehouse Group, LLC, a long-time Washington, DC investor and entrepreneur told me the way to handle a stumper is to keep cool, acknowledge that the question is a good one, you don’t have answer right now and but will give it more thought.
Above all, don’t fake it! I guarantee that giving a phony answer will come back to haunt you.