One of the modern masters of data – and specifically data presented to an audience on a slide – is Hans Rosling. He’s spoken regularly at TED and TEDx talks about big issues like child mortality, and his talks are mesmerizing. He’s an example of a speaker that presents data in ways that prove his point, never become confusing or boring, and draw the audience in. Check out one of his recent TED talks here, and below. What the heck, check them all out. If you have to present heavy data, here’s how you do it.
1. Present with passion and clarity. Rosling has wrestled with the data, and he know to pick out just the important points. Each of his pieces of data serves the main thesis of his talk. But even when he’s deep in the difference between countries in sub-Saharan Africa, he never loses his passion for the subject, and that is electrifying.
2. Don’t talk to your slides. Rosling occasionally points to data on his slides, but he spends most of his talks facing the audience, giving insights about his data. I’ve worked with many presenters in fields that involve lots of data, and they always argue this point. My answer is, “Watch Rosling!” You don’t have to talk to your slides. You have to talk to the audience. The audience is why you’re there.
3. Vary your pace. Numbers can be overwhelming, but Rosling keeps our interest with the instincts of a good actor, varying his pace and intensity to keep our interest. His voice rises and falls, his volume shifts with the urgency of his points, and he pauses and delivers the main punch lines with drama, slowly, and clearly. Take a lesson from the master. Don’t speak in a monotone at the same pace for 60 minutes. You’ll kill your audience.
4. Use the right kind of animation. It was a cursed day when Power Point (and Keynote, and the others) added all those bells and whistles, so that you can make your boring word slide more interesting by swooping the headline in from the left, exploding the words off the screen to the right, and building – forever building – with one bullet after another. Rosling does none of that. Instead, he animates the data to make a point – how child mortality changes over time, for example – and then narrates it like an announcer talking us through an exciting sports event. It’s masterful. And not a single headline swoops in from either left or right.
5. Spend several minutes per slide. Rosling makes us care about his data because he spends time with it. It’s interesting; it repays study. The trend nowadays is to build slide decks with 100 slides in, say, 45 minutes. To be sure, the graphics have improved – glossy pictures whizz past us at an ever-increasing rate – but that’s no excuse for shallow talks, shallow slides, and taking your talk at speed because you don’t have much to say. Take a page from Rosling, use fewer slides, and dig into them with your audience.
If you must use Power Point, then use it intelligently. Data can provide astonishing insights, offer real clarity, and motivate us to change. If it’s used like a master does. Hans Rosling is one such master.