FAQ: How Should I Use Statistics?

FAQMy 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..

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