Lies, damn lies and statistics… so the saying goes. But it doesn’t matter that 73.6% of statistics are made up: people love numbers. So whenever you write a report, prepare a presentation or research a speech, it’s likely you’ll turn to statistics to support your case.
But why stop there? Why not use these 5 tips to make sure your statistics stick with the audience?
1. Don’t overwhelm the room
Have you ever a left a sales pitch your mind a blur with figures? Have you ever switched off in an analyst presentation that was all stats? If you’re presenting a lot of numbers be kind to your audience. If you’re a CFO who’s been pouring over the company spreadsheets for some time you probably know them off by heart. But you’re audience doesn’t, so don’t overwhelm them with every number to have been produced by your finance department. Pick the most meaningful ones and spend time interpreting the results for everyone in the room.
2. Use a time series
Have your company profits doubled? Have you grown year-on-year since 2010? Has your share price been steadily rising since your IPO six months ago? Then show the audience! Numbers need context. If you made a profit of $3 million last year that’s fantastic. But it’s really hard for people to compute what big numbers – hundreds of thousands, millions or billions – mean. So give them some context. Demonstrate your success by showing your profits in a graph that maps the last five years, 12 months or six months.
3. Peer into the future
This is a really clever way to motivate people to take action. Let’s pretend you’re making a speech about gender equality in the work place. You might use evidence from the Global Gender Gap Report 2014, which reveals that the gender gap for economic participation and opportunity now stands at 60% worldwide. This is a disappointing statistic, in and of itself. But the World Economic Forum, who published the report, knew that on its own, it wasn’t a powerful enough headline. So they got their people to do some number crunching and discovered that at the current rate of progress it will be the year 2095 before we see equality in the workplace. Eighty years feels like a really long time to wait for equal pay and opportunity, so they led with the 2095 fact in their press release, and got the press coverage they deserved.
4. Create an infographic
Infographics are a bit like content marketing, thought leadership and storytelling. They’re very fashionable at the moment so lots of people are talking about them, a few are doing them badly, and fewer still, are doing them well. An infographic is a graphic that communicates a piece of information, often a fact or a stat. I’m going to type that again: the graphic communicates the information. It’s not enough to stick a number next to an image that represents the issue you’re talking about. The graphic has to do the talking.
For an example, let’s stay with the theme of equal opportunity. According to the UN women earn 24% less than men. Putting this stat next to an image of a woman is NOT an infographic. Showing how much less women earn by representing 76 cents, next to a dollar, is an infographic.
If you go down this route and you use infographics in your slides I highly recommend getting a designer on board to help you. I’m a writer and a coach – not a designer. I know what I’m trained in and what I’m not – no one needs to see my dodgy attempts at navigating InDesign or Photoshop! I work with a few trusty designers who deliver the goods when I need them.
5. Don’t create an infographic
You don’t need an infographic to paint a picture in the minds of your audience. You can create a visual image by comparing your statistic to a number that has meaning for your listeners.
Don’t say: we have 320 million users.
Do say: we have more users that the population of the United States – 320 million people.
The visual image of the United States will stick in the audiences’ minds much better than a random number. If you want to represent a number in this way, stick it into Google with a phrase like ‘size of’ or ‘population of’ and see what comes up.
Numbers and statistics are brilliant evidence to support your message. Just make sure you use them to their full effect, so they stick in the minds of your audience long after you’ve left the stage.