A Good Presentation Is About Data And Story

Think of the last time you were in a presentation that was loaded up with charts and tables. Do you remember the key points? Did the data surprise, shock, or create any kind of emotion in you? Most importantly, did it spur you to any kind of action? Maybe yes…but likely no, and too often endless charts, tables, and other analytics do more harm than good. Data overkill can quickly turn off your audience, weaken your message, and fail to spur anyone to action. Whether you are trying to raise money for your startup or are rallying your team into the next quarter, presenting the right amount of data in a compelling way is a key skill for any CEO or manager.

Thankfully, there are many resources available online to help you hone your presentation and storytelling skills, as well as professional coaching companies and organizations. The Presentation Company is one such group. They offer corporate trainers that teach business people how to visually integrate their facts and data into story format. Here are some of their top tips for making data manageable when giving a presentation:

Focus On Story

Cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner suggests we are 22 times more likely to remember a fact when it has been wrapped in a story. Why? Because stories are memorable. Stories help us grab the gist of an idea quickly. They trigger our emotions. Injecting hard numbers into your story will raise the stakes and bring your call to action into clearer focus. Bottom line – the combination of data + story — satisfying both left and right brain thinking – is what will ignite your audience to act. So what is the first step?

1. Establish A Setting

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Data has an important place in every element of a story from setting the stage to building the characters to illuminating the conflict to unveiling the resolution . Establishing a setting doesn’t always require data. But sometimes, it can help provide attention-grabbing context and parameters about your subject. For example, if you are establishing a market size, data will answer the question how many? Where? Why? The examples below define the setting as the mobile and data markets.

2. Define Character Traits

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You will deepen your story by describing the characters in your setting. Characters are integral to stories because they are both affecting and being affected by the setting you have described. Whether you are talking about customers, senior management, or new hires at your office, your audience will want to learn more about who they are and what their motivations are.

3. Define What Is At Stake: THE CONFLICT

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After you’ve established the setting and your character, the role of your data is even more critical as it serves to increase the “tension” in your story. But be careful! Here is where you can go overboard and steal your own momentum. Be strategic on charts and tables (read: less is more). Always strive to present data in the most graphical light. The examples below identify the story’s conflict with more data (left) and less (right).

The table below is another example of how evidence of the conflict is revealed visually. Notice how the slide headline spells out the most important finding. Also, the most pertinent data is elevated with the use of color and callouts. Don’t make people work hard to understand the key point.

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4. Show Resolution And The Future

Data used in the resolution of your story is generally about your forward-looking projections. You are defining your “utopia” and unveiling your call to action. Use of hard data is important but remember, by this time, you should have already built your case through setting, characters, and conflict. It is time to make your “ask.” Using short, definitive statements, it’s time to bring your point home in a visual, humanizing way.

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And finally…

Don’t get caught up in the number of slides in your deck. Keeping your slides digestible and on point – through story — is most important. We recommend you lay out your story before you start constructing your slide deck. Even under time pressure, if you remember the elements of setting, character, conflict, and resolution, you will be well ahead of the game.