Use visuals: Many people prefer to process information visually rather than verbally. Use graphs and charts whenever appropriate to reinforce your point visually. Visuals also aid retention and will help the audience remember your point. Make certain to use the graph or chart that is appropriate for the point you're trying to make.
Use analogies: An analogy works by explaining something unfamiliar in terms of something the audience already knows about. When CD-ROMs first arrived, people had difficulty grasping how much information they could hold. One way to explain it would be to say that a CD-ROM could hold approximately 450 floppy discs. For the computer illiterate, a better explanation would be to say that a CD-ROM could hold 200,000 pages of text. Analogies become even more important as the number of zeros increases.
Use infographics: Infographics are a special kind of visual representation. For example, if you wanted to talk about the difference in domestic oil production between 1992 and 2002, you might use a barrel symbol to represent X million barrels of oil. This easily recognizable symbol adds visual reinforcement to the message.
Use economy: Unless there is an overwhelming need for precision, round off your statistics. No one needs to know there are 278,058,995 people in the United States. Saying the population is 278 million will be more memorable and make your point more succinct. Whenever possible, round off statistics.
On the subject of economy, remember the point of diminishing returns. Adding more statistics to your presentation is good, but only to a point. After that, the audience is overwhelmed and using more statistics can actually damage your presentation. How much is too much? That depends on the audience, their expectations and your purpose.
Use a familiar frame of reference: Contextualize your statistics within a frame of reference the audience understands. Here's an example. Suppose you were talking to an audience in Houston and trying to describe how long it took pioneers to travel via horse and wagon. You could say that early pioneers could only travel about fifteen miles in a day. To help them better understand your point, say that a trip to a suburb forty-five miles away that now takes less than an hour would have taken pioneers three days.
Statistics in a presentation can be a powerful form of support, but they can also alienate your audience and bury important points you're trying to make. Use these tactics to make certain your audience understands the numbers.
Dr. Joseph Sommerville has earned the title "The Presentation Expert" for helping professionals design, develop and deliver more effective presentations. He is the Principal of Peak Communication Performance, a Houston-based firm working worldwide to help professionals develop skills in strategic communication.