Using Statistics To Persuade

by Stephen Boyd | November 30, 2006

Many presentations require data to be presented. You talk about sales goals. You compare profits this year with last. Budget items for the new year have to be evaluated. You deliver a quarterly report. You show a client how this product will save money. These kinds of evidence require the use of numbers. Numbers can be boring to listen to and tedious to present. Let's look at some of the ways to present statistics in the most interesting and persuasive manner.

Always mention the source for data. Never give a nonspecific source for statistics. Do not say, "Research shows..." What research? Who did it? Or "An informed source said that..." Be specific. This information provides credibility for you and will strengthen the impact of the information the statistics provide.

In addition, not only do you want to include the source, you want to qualify the source as well. In doing so, you want to answer for the audience the question, "Why should I accept these statistics as proof?" You might include the breadth of the study, for example. You want to mention the qualifications of the person doing the research or summarizing the data you are using. If possible, use a person or group that the audience already respects. Other information that might qualify a source would be how long the person has been collecting data or how many books or articles the person has written on the subject. Obviously, if the source is within the company, just mentioning his or her name is enough.

Don't give too many statistics at one time. If you give number after number, the audience will become numb! Use no more than three statistics at a time. You can certainly use more than three in the presentation, but group them so that three is your maximum number at any one time.

Finally, combine statistics with some other kind of evidence. You might state a statistic and then give an example reinforcing the number. Or show the impact of the statistic with a chart on the screen. Show what the statistic might mean by comparing to something we would be familiar. Say, "That amount would be like supporting your child through four years of college."

Don't be afraid to use statistics because they are boring. If you follow the above suggestions, statistics can be powerful evidence and command the attention of the audience.

About the Author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at http://www.sboyd.com. To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

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