May 18, 2010

Stop making excuses for your data dump

For those of you who insist that data cannot (or worse -- shouldn't) be presented in an interesting and engaging way, I will once again point you to Hans Rosling. He is not the only speaker who makes data fascinating, but he is probably the best at it.

Notice how he takes his time, during his talk at TEDIndia, to set the stage to make his main point. He talks about his own history in India as a student. He illustrates historical milestones in 1858 through images and stories. He references Twitter for humor, and then brings out a new "ecological and recyclable version" of the laser pointer before he gets started.

Rosling does it all: He delivers meaningful content, making it engaging and easy to understand for everyone in the audience. He uses visuals, props, quotes, analogies, demonstrations and personal references (his 100th birthday was a nice twist at the end). He's passionate! He builds anticipation for the big "reveal" of his prediction.

And he does it all in just over 15 minutes.

I think every speaker should watch Hans Rosling's TED talks at least once a month for inspiration. I'm not saying you should be Hans Rosling, or even similar to Hans Rosling. After all, there's only one Hans Rosling.

However, I do want you to understand that data is not inherently boring. Presenters are boring when they think they have no options for how to present data. But data itself is a tool, just like any other tool in a presentation. It's what you do with the numbers that makes the presentation effective -- or makes it just another "data dump" that puts your audience to sleep and doesn't teach them anything.

I want you to rethink the way you perceive your topic. I want you to take some time to think about what your core message is and what your audience hopes to get out of your presentation. I want to you stop coming up with excuses about why you can't give a better presentation.

Poverty and child mortality are hardly entertaining topics, yet Rosling always finds a way to get his message across, to report the numbers but also show the bigger picture, and to be accessible, authentic and memorable in the process.

You can see two more of his TED talks here.

2 comments. Please add yours! :

TechEase said...

Excellent point Lisa, and a great example to back it up. As somebody who speaks about computers and technology, I can fall into that trap as well. We should all try to emulate Hans so our audiences stay engaged. Thanks for sharing.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for stopping by, Evan. I know you grasp this more than a lot of people, if this presentation is any indication:

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