Have you ever held a corporate job? If so, tell me if you’ve ever experienced this:
You’re sitting in a meeting around a big conference table. There’s a presentation on the screen in the front of the room. The presenter hurls facts, figures and charts faster than you can digest. Everyone else seems to be interested and engaged so you pretend you are too. In your mind you’re telling yourself:
“How much longer do I have to sit through this boring crap. I can’t take it anymore”
I’ve been through that experience many times. It reminds me of a line from one of my favorite 80’s comedies, Planes, Trains and Automobiles. There’s a scene where the character Neal (played by Steve Martin) says:
“…I could tolerate any insurance seminar. For days I could sit there and listen to them go on and on with a big smile on my face. They’d say, “How can you stand it?” I’d say, “‘Cause I’ve been with Del Griffith…”
I don’t have a Dell Griffith in my life so I had to learn to fake it all on my own.
Nobody Cares About Facts, Figures And Charts
Why are most presentations so boring? They focus on statistics, charts and numbers. Don’t get me wrong these are important in the right context. They’re just really boring. Even numbers geeks tire of it.
Your audience can’t hold their interest in what you have to say unless they get emotional about your material. In most business contexts, we feel an obligation to show interest, even if it’s not there. Full disclosure, some of my presentations suck. A few more really suck. That usually happens when I don’t put in the time to prepare. The difference between the good ones and bad ones comes down to emotion. When your audience feels emotion you can engage with them. Once engaged, only then can you persuade.
How To Bring Your Numbers To Life
Here’s a quick primer to stir emotion in your audience.
First, reveal your charts and data in the context of a story. Stories capture our imagination and bring our emotions to the surface. Even wound-up execs (and you know who you are) succumb to its powers.
Here’s what a lot of people don’t get about stories:
A crisis involving a single individual elicits more emotion than a story about large groups of people. For example, a news story about thousands of starving people will not draw the same emotion from your audience as a story about a single starving child. I’m going to prove it to you. Compare these two sentences and tell me which one gets you more emotional. Just a warning. These stories are disturbing (even writing them is disturbing) but it will prove the point.
Compare These Two Stories
Anytown, California. A massive flood is destroying the town. A thousand people are escaping to safer ground in canoes. At least 36 people are dead, including 11 children
Anytown, California. Just hours ago a massive flood ravaged the town. With waters flowing like waves in an ocean, a little girl, no more than six, tried desperately to cling to her mother. The force of the water was too strong and she was swept away. The mother distraught by the loss, let go in a fruitless attempt to rescue her. Rescue teams later found the girl and her mother. The mommy had found her daughter but it was too late.
Disturbing? Yes. Don’t worry. It’s pure fiction. That’s the power of focusing on a single individual. I create a vivid picture of one young child succumbing to flood waters while trying to hang on to mommy. It’s more concrete and visceral than picturing a town full of people displaced and killed. This is especially true when dealing with numbers and charts. They lack the built in emotion. Cloak your data in a story about a single individual. It elicits more emotion. More emotion means more engagement. Once you capture engagement, you really do have a chance to persuade.