Tag Archives: numbers

Excel and PowerPoint Don’t Mix…

SpreadsheetVery often presentations will include financials or other figures. And, of course, the presenter believes that the best way to present this data is by cramming as much as he can into a gigantic Excel spreadsheet and then copying and pasting that 6,250-cell spreadsheet onto one small PowerPoint slide. Impressive, right? Think again, presenter… this has zero impact. And, it will even distract from your presentation because people will lose focus as they won’t be able to see what you are referring to and follow along.

Spreadsheets are used for analyzing, not for communicating. They are fantastic for quickly figuring out totals or averages or for doing hundreds or even thousands of calculations instantly on rows and rows of data. They are not, however, great for presenting. Simply put, they contain way too much information. My advice is to simplify: do you really need to present all of the data? Or just the results?

By focusing on the results in some sort of summary fashion like a table, the audience can see the numbers big and clear. You can explain how you arrived at each number if you see fit. You can walk them through it step by step but you don’t need to show the entire process. Use colors, percentages, underlining, boldface, and other effects to highlight key figures or show comparisons or differences within the results. With a summary table you have a powerful, focused image that you can now play around with and be creative.

In the end, the audience will remain more focused and in tune with your presentation and you will be able to get your point across more succinctly and effectively.

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The Rule of Three…

When giving presentations or public talks, the Rule of Three is a powerful rule to remember. You should commit this to memory and practice writing and presenting using this rule. The rule is simple: When making a point, use three words or ideas in a row. The audience is more likely to consume and comprehend an idea when it is presented as part of a trio.

Using the Rule of Three allows you to present a concept more clearly, concisely, and memorably. In his book Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, Roy Peter Clark provides insights into the magic of the number three. He states, “Use one for power. Use two for comparison, contrast. Use three for completeness, wholeness, roundness. Use four or more to list, inventory, compile, and expand.”

The rule of three has created timeless speeches, stories, and historical foundations. Some examples include:

  • From the Declaration of Independence – “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”
  • From religion – “Father, son, and holy spirit”
  • From movies – “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”
  • From children’s stories – “The Three Little Pigs” or “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”
  • From real estate – “Location, location, location”
  • From Julius Caesar – “Veni, vidi, vici” (“I came, I saw, I conquered”)
  • From entertainment – “Three-ring circus” or “The Three Stooges”

As you can see, the Rule of Three has a powerful history. It’s nothing new and has been used throughout time to make powerful points, in the formation of governments (Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches), and to engrain concepts into the memory of generations.

So, remember in your next speech to use the Rule of Three… and that’s  the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

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Say Goodbye to Spreadsheets…

It may not be your first choice and you know the audience is going to hate you for it, but sometimes you have to present numbers, figures, calculations, results, financials, statements, and more. While it certainly makes it more enjoyable and digestible for the audience if the numbers are positive and show growth, profits, or bonuses, the reality remains that most people don’t like looking at numbers in a presentation and tend to tune out. A surefire way to lose the audience is to pop an Excel spreadsheet up on the screen and begin talking.

A spreadsheet is dull, difficult to follow, and not meaningful to an audience. Next time you have the task of presenting numbers, try using something visual. Try a pie chart to show proportions, such as sales by company division as a part of the whole company. Use a line chart to show a trend, such as profit growth over the last four quarters. Or, put together a bar chart to compare expenses over the last 12 months. These graphics are simple to build and create something digestible and understandable for your audience.

Take this one step further, though. The default in PowerPoint is for the visual to show up on the screen in one piece. However, you can animate your charts and graphs and build them along with the audience. This gives you time to discuss each piece as you go along. You can explain why something may have happened or congratulate a group on a great quarter as your line chart shoots to the sky. If you do this, keep the effects simple – we don’t need spinning and twirling. Keep in mind you don’t want to detract or make a serious presentation cartoonish.

So, next time you are faced with the daunting task of presenting financials, spruce it up a bit and you will see it is much more enjoyable for the audience, and they will both understand and retain what you have presented much better.

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The Magic Number Is…

Very often our presentations culminate with “the “X” steps to success,” or “top ‘X’ takeaways,” or “top ‘X’ goals for today.” The question begs, what is “X”? Should X be three, five, seven, 10… ? The more takeaway bullets we can give, the better, right? Wrong.

Less is more when it comes to your bulleted steps or takeaways from a presentation. Scientific studies of the brain and memory have shown time and again that people can keep three key points or steps in their short-term memory. After three, the brain kicks one out so there’s room for the next. You may have seven on the slide, but your audience has deleted four from their short-term memory and most likely retained only three.

If you really think about it, three is a great number. Things always happen in threes… three represents a beginning, a middle, and an end, or a past, a present, and a future. I feel a bit like The Count on Sesame Street, but three is a magical number with a great ring to it. Plus it ties things up nice and neat, keeps things simple, and forces you, as the presenter, to focus on what is really important for your audience.

If you have more to say, think about directing the audience to the information elsewhere… provide a web address, print material, or a blog site. Think about why your audience is there listening to you and what they want to leave with. Put yourself in the audience’s shoes.

Think about how you can condense your material into points that are manageable and easy to remember. Maybe it’s a key word for each. Count them out on your hand using three fingers. And remember – three is the magic number. Less is more when it comes to presenting.

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