Making Data Persuasive – How Business Presentations Have Changed

By Kevin J Ryan

Over recent years, business presentations have changed so dramatically, they are almost unrecognisable from what was done a decade ago. Just as the introduction of PowerPoint/Keynote required business presenters to learn new modality, a similarly different skill-set is required to present effectively now.

Then & Now

The most important business presentation is the one focused on getting agreement or buy-in from the audience – approval for a purchase or the go-ahead for a project. Previously this presentation was given to people in the room who were hearing the proposal for the first time with a relatively short question and answer session (generally at the end).

Now, most of these type of presentations involve both people in the room and others attending remotely, they have seen the proposal well in advance and they expect to be able to ask questions at anytime throughout your presentation. Worse still, some people assessing your proposal might never see your presentation and will make their decision based purely on what they read.

Every presentation prepared for an audience that the speaker perceives being as in a superior position will be data-heavy. The temptation is irresistible. You have so much data available to you and you don’t want to risk appearing ill-prepared or lacking in hard ‘proof’.

Using Data to Persuade

Data should never be the most persuasive component of your presentation. This will come from your examples, images, stories and anecdotes. However, you will give yourself the best chance of success if the data in your presentation is as persuasive as it can be. Based on our knowledge of how the brain processes information, here are some simple guidelines.

  • Make your graphic suit your purpose. Most people select a graphic that can encapsulate the most information – which is wrong in principle. You should not select a graphic to show data; you should select the graphic that best illustrates your point. Ask yourself, “What is the point I am trying to make in showing this data?” and select your graphic accordingly.
  • Make the figures real with powerful comparisons. For example, “The amount that it costs to feed one child in a village for three days is what you pay someone just to deliver your meal to your doorstep.”
  • Put statistics ‘in the room’. For example, “48 percent of the population is affected by this change. So, in this room (of 24 people) that will be eleven of you.”
  • Use anchoring to your advantage. This principle proves that the first figure people hear becomes a reference point for subsequent figures. So, for example, if you were trying to emphasise the increase in efficiency, you would not say, “Our efficiency has increased 22% which is excellent given that last year it was 10%.” Instead you would present it this way, “We have an excellent result in our efficiency. Last year we increased efficiency by 10% and this year we’ve increased it to 22%.
  • Deliver data most powerfully by emphasising the numbers and putting them at the end of your sentence. So, instead of, “This will produce a 25% increase in profitability.” You would say “This will produce an increase in profitability of 25%.”

Prepare the Answers

The different delivery modality means much more of your presentation should be focused on your responses to their questions. If they have seen your proposal in advance, try and look at it through their eyes. What would concern them? What are the possible incorrect assumptions they might make?

Data-heavy presentations will not go away. Information is not knowledge and knowledge is not wisdom. Your role is to turn this information-transfer into knowledge for your audience so they can have the wisdom to do as you ask.

About the author

Kevin is an experienced conference speaker, workshop leader, facilitator and MC.

He speaks at conferences and seminars across Australia, New Zealand and Asia specialising in sales, negotiation skills, humour in business and communication skills. His clients include multi-national organisations, SMEs, politicians, members of the judiciary and Olympic athletes.

He has co-authored eleven books on communication skills and humour in business His articles are regularly printed in major daily newspapers in Australia and Asia.

Kevin is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) which is the highest possible level in professional speaking and the only one recognised internationally. He is a Past National President of Professional Speakers Australia. He has been inducted into the Australian Speakers Hall of Fame.