How to Present Data and Numbers

January 29, 2014

Aristotle often discussed three principles: pathos (passion), ethos (character), and logos (evidence). All three are the foundation to a great presentation, but today I want to unpack the topic of logos.

If you examine most business presentations, you will likely find an abuse of logos. You'll see a plethora of charts, graphs, numbers and percentages. The problem: Too many facts and stats, and not enough story.

Why?

Presenters often feel inclined to cram and share as much data as possible to prove their point. Sadly, it’s a mistake that can lead to the downfall of your presentation. Don't get me wrong -- logos is powerful and should be included in presentations. But too much of it can be overwhelming and kill any presentation, especially when it drives your talk.

Here's how you can utilize data and numbers more efficiently:

Bottom Line It

If you had a 38% jump in sales last month, then that is all I want to see on your slide. Save the chart or graph for a leave-behind piece or handout. The audience wants to see that you did your homework, but don't waste your presentation real estate for something that will take several minutes to explain and unpack.

Find the Golden Nuggets

When tempted to create or recreate a chart, think critically about what really matters. Do you really need to communicate every step, theory or item? Probably not. Find the important stuff and let that come to the surface. Everything else can simply fade away or be deleted entirely.

Create a Visual Metaphor

We once had a client who was trying to convey what they called the "City Hall Shuffle." In other words, it was a messy organizational chart. We used this City Hall metaphor in the material we created for them, and it turned out to be very effective. Seek out these opportunities in your own data. Look for the visual metaphors.

At the end of the day, data and numbers are powerful. They scream credibility. They shout, "you did your homework!" But they won't be as effective as they could be if you don't use them wisely.

READ MORE: The Science Behind Storytelling -- and Why It Matters

About the Author

Scott Schwertly is the author of How to Be a Presentation God and CEO of Ethos3, a Nashville, TN-based presentation boutique providing professional presentation design and training for national and international clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to branded individuals like Guy Kawasaki. If Scott is not working with his team building presentations, you will find him in the pool, on the bike, or on a long run. Scott lives in Nashville, TN with his wife and three dogs. He has a B.A. and M.B.A. from Harding University.

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Numbers by Andy Maguire is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://www.flickr.com/photos/andymag/9825503886/.

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