How to Present Statistics that Make Sense 

Posted on July 10, 2016 in Slide Content, Slide Design by Slideshop

  • SumoMe

data driven presentations

Including well-researched statistics in a presentation adds to its credibility. When you add numbers from a reliable source, your statements or arguments come across as being more valid, objective and reasonable.

While numbers can create a favorable impression, be careful to use them correctly, or they may bore or confuse your audience. The human brain is wired to appreciate relationships and stories better than figures alone. This challenges presenters and public speakers to improve their data presentation skills, so they’re able to present statistics in ways that make a lasting and weighty impact.

Frame It from the Perspective of Your Audience

Before you decide to present a statistic, first work out what the numbers mean from your audience’s point of view. How can you relate the numbers to their everyday lives? How can they find value in the statistics you’ll present?

Here’s an example of how a teacher could use statistics to promote motor vehicle safety to students.

  • Good: Don’t drink and drive. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2014 there were 9,967 people killed in alcohol-impaired auto accidents in the US. (Possible reaction: Wow! That’s a huge number!)
  • Better: Don’t drink and drive. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2014 an average of 27 people died every day from alcohol-impaired auto accidents in the US alone.  (Possible reaction: I could have been one of the victims!)

Use a Tangible and Concrete Point of Reference

Another great way to present a statistic is to compare it with something tangible and familiar to the audience.

In his 2008 TED talk, artist Chris Jordan discussed how he used powerful stats as inspiration for his art. One of the statistics he chose to represent was the number of paper hot beverage cups used every day. He visualized all the cups used in a day being stacked together to form a building. Such a structure would be 42 stories high – taller than the Statue of Liberty!

Steve Jobs often used this technique quite effectively. When he introduced the iPod in 2001, he didn’t emphasize the device’s memory in gigabytes – a technical term very few people could relate to. Instead, he announced that with an iPod you could carry 1,000 songs right in your pocket. In 2008, Jobs unveiled the less-than-an-inch-thick MacBook Air by bringing a common manila envelope on stage, and pulling out the super-slim laptop. Effective and memorable, these product demos stick with us even years later.

How can you apply these principles in a slide presentation? There’s a good example down below. In our Wind Energy Presentation we wanted to illustrate just how the enormous height of the tallest wind turbine in Denmark. Instead of saying, “The tallest wind turbine in the world, Vestas V164, is 220 meters high,” we compared its height to that of the world’s tallest animal and the world’s tallest tower.

presenting statistics

Plot statistics in a graph or chart

Another good technique for making numbers understandable is to illustrate them in a diagram, table or chart. This makes it easier to discover a pattern that might otherwise be missed. PowerPoint includes numerous methods for visualizing data, from simple bar charts to more complex scatterplots, waterfalls and tree maps. Check out Slideshop’s Charts and Data category for additional ideas.

If you opt to use a graph for your statistics, be sure you have a good balance between design and function. Numbers can be easily misinterpreted if:

  • The Y (vertical) axis doesn’t start at zero.
  • The axes aren’t clearly labeled.
  • The graph uses biased labels.
  • The data is incomplete.
  • The graph uses improper scaling.

Below is an example of a misleading graph, and its improved version from BBC. Because the vertical axis doesn’t start at 0, the graph on the left seems to suggest that house prices in 1999 were three times higher than the year before. BBC’s improved graph on the right more clearly communicates that there was only a 2.5% increase in prices.

misleading graphs

You can find more examples of misleading graphs at BBC, StatisticsHowTo, and Wikipedia.

Have you delivered data-driven presentations? What techniques did you use to make sense of the figures you presented?

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