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How to Use Numbers in a Presentation

Numbers numb, stories sell. We don’t deal well with numbers, [they tend] to suspend our sense of emotion, but we respond very, very well to stories. Individual stories will almost always trump a litany of statistics.  
 

– Edward Maibach 

 
Sooner or later you're going to have to make a presentation to convince people to support you, your ideas, or your projects.

You’re often going to have to present data – numbers – to make your case. And in some jobs, numbers may be the bulk of your presentations. I’m looking at you, CFOs, CMOs, actuaries, investor relations and financial experts.

The problem in talking about numbers is that human beings are not naturally gifted to understand or relate to numbers. Data quickly becomes white noise. Instead, as humans we are hardwired for telling and hearing stories.

As my friend Kent Stroman, a conversational fundraising expert for nonprofits, likes to say, “numbers numb, but stories store.” Kent calls him self a "recovering accountant" and has effectively learned to seamlessly blend stories and numbers. (Kent's latest book is called The Intentional Board: Why Your Board Doesn't Work ... and How to Fix It.)

You’ve probably experienced the fact that numbers numb, but stories store yourself. You might sit through an hour-long presentation of data and not remember a thing, but if the speaker had one good story, you’ll be able to recall it immediately.

With this in mind, here are a few tips for communicating with numbers:

Tell your story
First, and most important, remember that numbers don’t stand alone. They are meant to support a larger narrative. Never lose sight of your story.

For instance, at the highest level, your organization’s big message might be: We’ve had some challenges, but we’re moving in the right direction. Your job is to highlight and emphasize the numbers that support this argument.

Less is more 
As an analytical person your instinct will be to give more and more data to support your case, but the truth is that the more numbers you present, the less effective and persuasive you will be. You are no doubt familiar with the concept of diminishing returns. In a world of information overload and minute attention spans, less truly is more.

Hide numbers in a story
As I wrote previously, Stanford Business School research concluded that data included in a story is 22 times more likely to be remembered than data on its own.  And you want your numbers to be remembered, don’t you?

Simplify 
In line with telling a story, you should pare your numbers presentation to a manageable set. Consider using a photo to illustrate your point or a slide with only one key number blown up large. Help them understand why this number is so important in the context of your organization’s story.

Think like a teacher 
By focusing on presenting fewer numbers in a more meaningful way, you develop opportunities to educate your audience on key concepts.

Consider taking the time to drill down on a meaningful idea. For instance, you might ask, “Why are we pushing so hard to reduce expenses?”  Show the effects of each dollar saved in context. Talk about what it means to your stakeholders and the impact it will have on those in the audience.

Your listeners always want to know, “What’s in it for me?” You're much more likely to get support when people understand your rationale, the "why."

Show your personality 
I know you have a lot of interests, but your colleagues may not. Bring your personality to your presentation. Do you run marathons? Use a running analogy: You’ve heard the old sprint versus marathon metaphor. Talk about race times and how your financials compare. “It’s our personal best!”

One of my clients is a CFO who is wicked smart but also has a dry sense of humor that he seldom shared in presentations. I coached him to start slowly to reveal more of himself. When he started opening up and sharing himself, he got great feedback and improved his reputation inside and outside the company.  He told me he felt “liberated” by being himself on stage and in meetings.

Career differentiator
There are also other benefits to becoming a better presenter of numbers. In addition to engaging your listeners more effectively, you will position yourself for greater success. In any organization today, the ability to communicate is the career differentiator.

Too many CFO’s and other “number crunchers” don’t get top jobs because they don’t inspire other people. They are “crunched” by their numbers if you will.

The leaders of your organization are looking for people who not only have technical skills but also leadership and communications skills. If they have to choose between two “numbers people,” the one who can communicate effectively will win every time.

Also, I know it might be hard to believe, but you’ll start enjoying your presentations and feel more confident when you know you’re engaging people.

If you want to talk with me or want to share your experiences with presenting numbers, please contact me.
 

Should You Be a 'Giver' at Work?

“The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.” 

 –– Samuel Johnson


You know that guy in your office who is all about himself?

He’s always kissing up to the bosses to get the best of everything; he’s always getting people to do him favors, but he never helps anyone else. He’s a jerk! 

Guys like him know that people who give to others are borne losers -- doormats who deserve to be walked on.

What do you think? Is he right? Or is he wrong?

I hate to tell you, but he’s right. But the good news is, he’s also wrong.

‘Give and Take’

Let me explain. Extensive research on this question finds that some people who care deeply about people and put others first can be left with little to show for it. They end up at the bottom.

However, the more important part of this research shows that some people who give to others are among the most successful.

This is the research of Adam Grant, professor at The Wharton School of Business, documented in his book Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success. *

I was coaching senior leaders at a national convention a couple of years ago when I had the pleasure of meeting Grant, who was a featured speaker. After reading his book I was struck by the depth of his research, colorful stories and, most of all, the counter-intuitive nature of his conclusions.

Surprising key to success

Grant’s research examines “the surprising forces why some people rise to the top of the success ladder while others sink to the bottom.”

The professor notes that “in professional interactions, it turns out that most people operate as either takers, matchers or givers. Whereas takers strive to get as much as possible from others and matchers aim to trade evenly, givers are the rare breed of people who contribute to others without expecting anything in return.”

Grant writes that what your style is at work can have a huge impact on your success: “Although some givers get exploited and burn out, the rest achieve extraordinary results across a wide range of industries.”

Here’s an overview of the styles:

Takers ultimately fail

Take a minute and think about this:

That guy in your office, the jerk you were thinking of when I mentioned him a minute ago, doesn’t everyone know that he’s out for himself?

The answer is “yes,” and Grant’s research shows that he won’t have long-term success because there is a long line of people (maybe including you) who are waiting to plunge knives in his back when the time is right. This makes sense since success is all about relationships.

Matchers give to get

Matchers are people who help others with the expectation of return favors. In that way, they can be perceived as only helping you to get something from you. Not a particularly favorable reputation.

Givers fail and win…big

Grant’s research finds the very interesting results of being a giver in the workplace: “Givers dominate the bottom and the top of the success ladder. Across occupations, if you examine the link between reciprocity styles and success, the givers are more likely to become champs -- not only chumps,” he writes.

The difference between winning and losing for givers is in approach, as Grant details in his book.

Grant indicates most of us develop a primary way of interacting with people at work, which determines whether we are successful. “And this primary style can play as much of a role in our success as hard work, talent, and luck,” he says.

For leaders, Grant’s approach is even more important because the composition of your team and people’s individual approaches may determine success or failure.

This holds true for corporate cultures as well. Having the wrong ratio of givers to takers can create a toxic culture producing poor morale and poor results. It's also critical for leaders because people are always watching your behavior, even when you think they're not.

Are you a giver? Are you sure?

Think about yourself: what is your primary style? Are you really a giver, or do you keep a tally sheet of who returns the favor?

What about the people you work with? Identify one person in each category: giver, matcher and taker. Keep your eyes open and you’ll see people, and yourself, in a different way.

And please do me a favor: use the easy buttons below to share this with friends who might benefit -- even the takers.

If you're a giver, please share this message with people you care about simply hit the "share" button below. ;-)

To share your thoughts with me you can visit or have me sign you up for my exclusive Sunday Coffee newsletter, drop me a line on our contact page.

* Amazon affiliate link

How to Be Successful in Your Early Career

Congratulations on your college graduation!

You might have heard amazing commencement speeches with advice on your role in changing the world; on thinking globally but acting locally; on finding your bliss and living your dreams.

That is all good and inspirational advice. You should follow your dreams.
 
But as a veteran coach to CEOs and other leaders, I'd like to offer you some practical advice to get you started wherever your journey begins. (This advice will also work for emerging leaders new to the workplace in the past three years.)

These ideas come from my own observations and experiences of success and failure over the past 25 years.
 
Here are a few tips to help you be successful in your early career:
 
Start with face-to-face
You have the most amazing technology in history in the palm of your hand. That smartphone of yours gives you the potential to communicate with anyone in the world.
 
Yet, as a human being, the most important communication of your life will happen face to face – looking into another person’s eyes. Email, text, even voice calls will not replace in-person communication.
 
The moments that matter most in your life will be you looking into people's eyes and talking, whether to one person, ten people, or one thousand. Develop your skills in talking face to face.
 
Listen more than you talk
You no doubt have great ideas and you see the silly things people do in the workplace. When you’re first settling in, make sure you listen much more than you talk.
 
There will be plenty of time to offer up your good ideas. If you want people to think you’re really smart, listen carefully to the smart things they say and repeat them back at other times, so they know you’ve got it.


Focus on people
Whatever field you enter in business or nonprofits, your organization will have a mission. Keep your eye on the people affected by that mission.
 
People and organizations most often make mistakes because they lose sight of the people who are affected -- customers, employees, recipients, donors, or others.
 
You'll never go wrong by focusing on the people instead of the numbers, the politics, the organization, the bureaucracy. The power is with the people. Direct your attention to the people.
 
Build relationships
Speaking of people, you should concentrate on creating real relationships with the people in your organization. Not just the higher-ups, but also the people all around you at every level. Anything you have or will achieve in life is the result of people and your relationships.
 
This will always be true. In the past it was your parents, teachers, coaches, or friends. In the future, take time to build relationships that will create your success.
 
Never burn a bridge
Just as in college and the rest of your life, there will be people you can’t stand. Don’t permanently kill those relationships by some impulsive action that will make you feel good today.
 
The person you have a problem with today may well be your friend, ally, or partner tomorrow. If you burn the bridge and destroy the relationship, you'll never get the chance. To protect yourself, don't let people push your buttons.
 
Be a leader
You may not have the title, but you should think and act like a leader. Your success will come from your ability to influence others in a positive way. Observe what leaders do – both good and bad – and emulate the best of what you learn.
 
My first job out of college was in sales and marketing for Procter & Gamble, where they would tell me “you’re always selling yourself, your ideas, and your company.” This idea has been one of my most powerful forces during decades in business.
 
Persevere
This is probably the most important factor for your success in life. Don’t give up too easily. Become someone who stays positive and does the hard work even when things aren’t going well.
 
I've seen it time and time again: When the average person gives up, is the time that they were about to break through.

Fight for yourself, your beliefs and your ideas. Show the world your passion and keep fighting until you break through. Some say 80 percent of success in life is showing up.  Keep showing up!
 
Enjoy Yourself
Very little is as serious as it seems to you at this time. Don’t take it all too seriously. Have fun in everything you do.
 
Congratulations college graduate!