Executive Speaking Weblog

Communication – the future of business

How to Make Statistics Training Interesting!

Posted by Presentation Skills on March 24, 2008

I recently had the opportunity to offer some presentation coaching with a client – Trina – who spent her day delivering statistical training. Her area of speciality was ‘imputation’, which looks at how you estimate certain numbers. As you could imagine, you could make the topic very dry and boring without even trying!

As I watched Trina deliver her training, I noticed that the people in the room were actually becoming involved and excited (well OK – Just involved) in what was being presented. Granted the participants were interested in the information, but lets face it, this was the fourth day of a full week of advanced statistical training! People were bound to be tired and over it. Why were these people so interested?

At the end of the training, Trina came up to me and apologised for all the things that she did wrong, and wished that she could do better. She said this was why she needed public speaking coaching. She apologised for holding her notes while she spoke, apologised for being nervous and apologised for being genuinely excited about the topic when no-one else was. What she did not realise was that her excitement for the topic was what made her so successful at her job.

Her enthusiasm for her topic was evident from the start. She told the participants that she was genuinely excited about the statistical Normal Curve, and what could be achieved by understanding it. She told stories of how her last employer ignored the normal curve, and how it cost them dearly. She showed the participants how they could follow the rules and avoid the same dire consequences. This is what involve the audience.

It was her enthusiasm for the subject that really entertained the audience. She was excited, and happy to be training and the carried her through and the audience through what was at times very tough and tedious learning

The fact that she held her notes, was no real distraction. The audience knew it was a technical presentation, and knew there was a lot of information to be presented, and understood that it would have been difficult to present off the top of your head. I gave her a few pointers on how to reduce the number of notes. She had several pages of the notes she was using. These were primarily be PowerPoint slides she was talking to. She could have made these notes more useful to her by reducing the amount that she wrote on them. Simple bullet points instead of full sentences would have helped her.

She also would have been better do not read the slides verbatim. Many public speaking articles have been written about how to use PowerPoint properly. They all suggest that you should not read what is on the slides as it simply distracts the audience. In fact, there is some research coming out of the University of New South Wales suggesting that reading the slides at the same time as people listening to you and reading them reduces the amount that they take in. This is due to cognitive overload. Our brain can only do so much at once and if we have to listen and read the same stuff, we will not taken as much information.

So yes it is possible to make statistics interesting! If Trina could make statistics interesting, can’t you make you all topic interesting? How do you do this? Follow Trina’s example: be excited about your topic; have stories relate to your topic; & show how the stories relate to your audience.

You can get more information about stories in public speaking by following this link to Executive Speaking.

Till later,

Cheers,

Darren

If you liked this, there are more great tips on making any speech interesting at Speak Motivate and Lead.
Australian Public Speaking courses
www.executivespeaking.com.au

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3 Responses to “How to Make Statistics Training Interesting!”

  1. terrygaultthg said

    Darren,

    Interesting story! You are definitely right about how her energy level helped the audience become involved. 80 – 90% of the presenters that I observe do not expend enough energy. Hence, they come across as uninvolved, uninteresting, and unenthusiastic. Since she was obviously interested in what she was presenting, she commanded more attention and projected more confidence and charisma.

    As to her powerpoint use, here are my tips on correctly using powerpoint in presentations:

    Close Outlook
    Close Outlook when you are showing PowerPoint slides. Otherwise, email alerts pop up.

    Slideshow Mode
    You were not in slide show mode. It makes your slides harder to see. To get into slide show mode hit F5 to go to the beginning. If you have PowerPoint 2003, hitting Shift+F5 will put you in slide show mode starting at the slide you have selected.

    Standing in projector beam
    You were standing in the projector beam. This is distracting to an audience. Also, we might become concerned about the bright light shining in your eyes. In either case, we are not able to listen closely to your message because of other concerns or distractions.

    Bullets as hooks
    Think of the bullets on your slides as hooks. By that I mean that the bullet should remind you of your talking points but also incite curiosity in your audience. Use questions, alliteration (repetition of consonants) or juxtaposition of ideas to intrigue the audience. For example:
    Why Automate Processes?
    License to Fail
    Magnet Markets
    Customers: Faithful or Fickle?
    Plan or Wing It?
    Tragedy or Triumph?

    Use more images
    Incorporate images and negative visual space. Break up all the linear text on your slides with stories, examples, images & metaphors. Otherwise, you are not engaging your audience’s right hemisphere, the brain’s center of imagination. That’s when our minds start to drift, in spite of the fact that the data may be important for us to learn and understand. Use more imagery coupled with metaphor. The image search engine that I use is image.google.com. You can save the image files you find to your hard drive and insert them into PowerPoint. Use files that are between 30 – 100K for good clarity without bloating your PowerPoint file. Check out our materials for more about the use of imagery on page 5-16.

    Simplify text
    Most PowerPoint slides are loaded with way too much text. Distill your slides down into simple bullet points with 4 or 6 words per bullet max. Think of the bullets as hooks. By that I mean that the bullet should remind you of your talking points but also incite curiosity in your audience. Use questions, alliteration (repetition of consonants) or juxtaposition of ideas to intrigue the audience. For example:
    Why Automate Processes?
    License to Fail
    Magnet Markets
    Customers: Faithful or Fickle?
    Plan or Wing It?
    Tragedy or Triumph?

    Anyway, thanks for the story!
    Terry Gault

  2. terrygault said

    Darren,

    During my journeys on the net, I saw one of your delightful videos and posted it on our blog. It reminded me of an important point about “rules” that I often make in our workshops.
    http://speakfearlessly.net/break-the-rules-have-more-fun/

    Also, you might enjoy this post with a terrific presentation using graphics from Hans Rosling at the TED conference.
    http://speakfearlessly.net/amazing-graphic-presentation-from-hans-rosling-at-ted/

    Terry Gault
    http://www.hendersongroup.com/

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