Presenting Data Effectively: 3 Ways to Not Lose Your Audience

June 15, 2016

In today’s business environment, not a single decision is made without clear, comprehensive, and sometimes overwhelming amounts of data to help inform it. Salary decisions are guided by performance metrics, new products are developed based on market trends, even measly little blogs like this are using data.

We can quantify the likeliness of an article being opened down to a debatably irritating degree of certainty, based on if we’ve used a number in the title or not. You see it all over the internet:

It goes on.

Creators know that articles have a better click-through-rate when they quantify the contents inside. We do it occasionally too. And why? Because people like knowing what to expect.

Great. Got it. So what’s your point, Maxx from SquarePlanet, the PRESENTATION company? The point is, people take this fervent, unabashed love of all things data, and they apply it to the way they communicate and present information. They believe that if data-driven thinking is the gold standard of business, then that’s what will resonate with people, right?

We say no. Well not on its own. And it’s not a matter of opinion, because guess what we have? You guessed it. DATA. There have been tons of studies and articles published over the years that very plainly demonstrate the difference in how our brains respond to data versus evocative, human-focused language.

So when you go to give a presentation to persuade your audience towards a particular goal, use this to your advantage.

Here are 3 ways for presenting data effectively:

Data = Fertilizer

In a presentation, or any opportunity to communicate, data is like fertilizer. When used in the right place, at the right time, in the right amount—it’s incredibly powerful. It can provide a much needed boost to what’s being cultivated. In a presentation, data should support or PROVE your message, but never act as the message itself. As simple as it sounds, it’s not always easy.

EXAMPLE: Elon Musk’s, Tesla Model 3 Unveil

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In the first couple minutes of Elon Musk’s presentation unveiling the Tesla Model 3, he effectively uses data to support the much larger and more compelling reason for why Tesla exists. As he puts it, “It’s very important to accelerate the transition to sustainable transport.” To put it more plainly, we need a way to travel without destroying the planet. His data fertilizer to help cultivate that idea? ‘CO2 levels have reached a record level of 403 parts per million.’ ‘A 2.3 degree increase in average temperature since 1908.’

These are compelling, inarguable pieces of data. But he still doesn’t lead with them. Even in his infamous bumbling, less-than-polished speaking style, Musk knows that in order to really frame what Tesla is all about, he needs to use these stats to support his initial notion: We must find a way to drive more sustainably and we must do it FASTER.

Create perspective

One of the most common issues in using significant pieces of data in presentations comes down to your audience’s ability to imagine what they really mean. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Back in 1981, as the United States’ national debt reached $1 trillion, Ronald Reagan was able to put that number in perspective in a very powerful way. In a speech to Congress, Reagan said:

Presenting Data Effectively - Stack of Bills

A few weeks ago I called such a figure, a trillion dollars, incomprehensible, and I’ve been trying ever since to think of a way to illustrate how big a trillion really is. And the best I could come up with is that if you had a stack of thousand-dollar bills in your hand only 4 inches high, you’d be a millionaire. A trillion dollars would be a stack of thousand-dollar bills 67 miles high (

With a very simple framework, Reagan was able to make his audience truly imagine what $1 trillion really looked like. And yes for those keeping track at home, our current national debt stacked in $1,000 bills would stack 1,139 miles high—literally blasting through our planet’s atmosphere into outer space. Turn those bills into singles and we’re looking at 2 round trips to the moon.


But that’s a different blog for a different website to tackle. The point is, put significant pieces of data in a perspective that your audience can really understand and it will become much more powerful. A 67-mile-tall stack of $1,000 bills is inherently a lot more daunting than $1 trillion will ever sound on its own.

Which brings us to….

Make it a big deal!

If you want your audience to really remember a stand-out stat—make it a big deal! Too often, presenters bury the most compelling pieces of data in ‘oh by the way’ information that should instead be screamed from the rooftops.

If your new app had over 10,000 downloads in 2 months, and you want to really highlight it—don’t add it as a bullet point on a slide with 5 other pieces of information. Your audience will gloss right over it because you’re not telling them to remember it. Instead, simply create one slide with the number 10,000 on it from end to end.

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And then, get excited. Because as your audience, we’ll only be as excited as YOU are. It’s human nature to mimic emotions. Authentic enthusiasm is contagious. And unfortunately so is a deadpan, I’ve-gone-through-this-a-million-times, delivery. Identify your most compelling pieces of data, give them the stage they deserve, and your audience will respond more favorably.


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