How to Effectively Use Numbers When Presenting
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How to Effectively Use Numbers When Presenting

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Over the years, I’ve given hundreds of different presentations to thousands of different people.

The majority of these presentations have been what we call “open enrollment meetings,” where I explain the upcoming year’s employee benefits program to a client and their team members.

As you might imagine, presentations of this type inevitably include numbers.

Lots of numbers.

The problem is: Numbers are abstract concepts. By themselves, they’re just not very engaging or memorable – and engaging and memorable is exactly what you want your presentations to be!

So how do you effectively use numbers when presenting, especially in situations where they’re necessary, and still end up with a good, engaging, memorable experience for your audience?

1. Always contextualize numbers

Numbers must be related to something familiar in order to have meaning and make them relevant.

For example, allocating parts of large sums of money – $20 billion, say – is conceptually difficult. A task like this becomes simpler, however, if we instead imagine ourselves spending dollars here and there out of a 20 dollar bill, for example.

So, in the case of an open enrollment meeting, explaining “an annual premium reduction of $1,000” isn’t nearly as effective to the average listener as explaining “savings of about $40 per paycheck.”

It’s our job as presenters to find that contextualized, familiar way to use numbers.

2. Use only the numbers you absolutely have to

Sure, you could present literally every statistic, every bit of data, every number in a quarterly report presentation. But do you need to?

Chances are, you don’t.

An effective presentation has fewer key points, not more. Those key points sometimes involve numbers. Fair enough. But your presentation will be better when you’re only using the ones necessary to communicate what’s most essential.

3. When you can, use numbers via a visual

If a picture is worth a thousand words, it’s worth as many numbers.

Whenever possible, show numbers – especially when they get numerous and complex – using visual aids, such as graphs, charts, tables, etc.

Even for a sleeker presentation, perhaps one using a simple number to illustrate just one point, presenting that number along with some kind of visual will almost always make it even more effective.

4. Make your numbers characters in a story

Humans and stories are irrevocably linked. We love stories, we remember them, we frame our worlds with them.

A person is infinitely more likely to remember the plot points of a simple story than they are to remember a series of even just three random numbers. In any case, they’ll have more fun with the story.

For your presentation, this may mean illustrating a point with a story instead of a number. Or it may mean presenting numbers in narrative form. Simply listing five years’ worth of increasing revenue numbers in a row is much less effective than saying, “We’ve worked together and grown 200% every year, for five years.”

Making the Complex Simple

Numbers can be challenging for a presenter. By using only the most vital ones, contextualizing them, and presenting them visually and through story, you can make even the most boring numbers engaging and memorable for your audience.

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