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Present Your Data Like a Pro

With so many ways to spin and distort information these days, a presentation needs to do more than simply share great ideas — it needs to support those ideas with credible data. That’s true whether you’re an executive pitching new business clients, a vendor selling her services or a CEO making a case for change. How you present data can double — or decimate — its impact, so take note of these ways to ensure that your data is doing its job:

— MAKE SURE YOUR DATA CAN BE SEEN: What is readable on your laptop may be far less so when projected on a screen. Your audience won’t learn what it can’t see.

— FOCUS ON THE POINTS YOUR DATA ILLUSTRATES: Don’t leave the burden of decoding your data to your audience. It’s your job to explain how the data supports your major points.

— SHARE ONLY ONE MAJOR POINT FROM EACH CHART: The quickest way to confuse your audience is by sharing too many details at once. The only data points you should share are those that significantly support your point — ideally, one point per chart.

— LABEL COMPONENTS CLEARLY: While you’ve been working with the same chart for weeks or months, your audience will be exposed to it for mere seconds.

— VISUALLY HIGHLIGHT “AHA!” ZONES: The best presenters visually highlight the “Aha!” zone itself with a circle or shading to reach the differentiated (aural, verbal, visual) learners in their audience, as well as to triple-reinforce the most important data takeaways.

— WRITE A TITLE THAT REINFORCES THE DATA’S POINT: Even when the titles are specific, like “Millennial Preferences” or “Campaign Awareness,” they can still be elevated with more point-specific titles like “Millennials Prefer Mobile” or “Campaign Awareness Is Increasing.”

— PRESENT TO YOUR AUDIENCE: Many presenters look at their slides while they share data, as if the PowerPoint is their audience. But only your audience is your audience, and, as fellow humans, they receive your points best when you look them in the eye.

(Joel Schwartzberg oversees executive communications for a major nonprofit and is a professional presentation coach.)

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