person presenting to a group of people

Data Presentation Techniques: How To Avoid Your Audience Counting Sheep

We’ve all been there. Sitting in front of a PowerPoint screen squinting at a matrix of numbers as a grey suit behind a lectern, drones on and on about percentage increase this, and amortisation that. After a while, the numbers begin to blur, and we begin thinking about what we’ll have for dinner that night – or what time our favourite TV show begins. We start planning that snag list of home-improvements that we’ve been putting off for months. Absolutely ANYTHING to save us from the pain that is listening to someone presenting data, facts and figures. 

But what is it about presenting data that we find so dull and boring – that triggers something within us to switch off and get distracted? It might be down to the tech dominated world that we live in. 

In Harriet Griffey’s article in The Guardian a few years ago, she writes that people on average check their phones every 12 minutes according to the UK regulatory Ofcom. Our ability to focus in and concentrate on a single task at hand has become critically diminished due to every buzz, ping, and zap of incoming emails, calls, texts and updates. And our brains have adapted accordingly. Ex-Apple & Microsoft consultant Linda Stone coined the phrase Continuous Partial Attention (CPA) – where we are constantly turned on, tuned in and available, no matter where we are. 

So, the next time you find yourself standing behind the lectern, droning on and on and on about endless data analytics – remind yourself that competition for your audiences’ attention is fierce. In order to win back your crowd from the data-abyss into which they’re falling – you need to give them something more powerful and interesting than whatever their distractions are. 

And that’s where storytelling comes in. 

Storytelling has long been recognised as a powerful tool in influencing and persuasion and those who can master this art can wield its power as they see fit. Check our out vlog on the Magical Science of Storytelling and enjoy a quick video of David JP Phillips who gives a powerful TEDx talk on this strange power that eludes so many of us, afterwards it might be of interested for you to check out our upcoming Storytelling For Business open courses. 

Endless papers have been written on the neuroscience of storytelling – and what happens our brains when we tune into a story being told. Without getting bogged down in too much jargon – what happens is, that upon hearing a story, our brains fire up their synapses and start firing on all cylinders. When we hear a good story, we tune in. Wrapped, on the edge of our seats – waiting for the pay off when the struggle and sacrifice pay off in a gripping climax. It’s safe to say that human beings are programmed to pay attention to stories. It’s part of our DNA. It comes as naturally to us as tapping our foot to a beat or humming along to a tune. 

Our Making Facts & Figures Fascinating online courses, developed and delivered by our tutor Andrew Tidmarsh, explores how we can apply a number of different storytelling structures to make data, facts and figures more interesting in presentations. At its core is PEOPLE. Or to be more exact – people in a particular place over a certain duration of time. That’s what lures an audience in. We’re fascinated by that holy trinity of storytelling ingredients. That’s what every book, film, TV series and song we’ve ever consumed boils down to. So, apply that to your data presentation and watch your world transform. People won’t be interested in the percentage increase in stock value – but would love to hear about the impact the increase in performance had on the people who it affects. The staff members who got a pay rise, the parent who doesn’t need to work overtime so they can now see their kids – the positive impact the data results have had on the customers’ lives. 

So, the next time you have to deliver a presentation, heavily loaded with data, facts and figures – apply the science of storytelling – and your audience won’t be counting sheep. 

At the Lir At Work we deliver a series of confidence building and presentation skills courses for both individuals and groups. These incorporate a range of theoretical, practical, learning modules, designed to strengthen confidence for anyone who is uncomfortable with presenting data and statistics in an interesting way in order to engage with and capture the attention of their audience.

For more information on the learning outcomes please visit our range of effective communication skills courses or contact us directly