April 24, 2008

Strong openings: shocking statistics

When we talk about strong openings for a presentation, we are usually referring to the following methods to get the audience emotionally or physically involved with your presentation right from the beginning:

1. Tell a story (funny, heartwarming, horrifying -- get some emotion flowing)
2. Ask a question (or a few -- sometimes I like to give a quiz)
3. Use a quote that gets people thinking
4. Give a "shocking statistic"

I find the shocking statistic to be the most difficult to pull off effectively, because it's hard to come up with statistics that can really move your audience. People are jaded, and a statistic like, "One in six 10th graders smokes pot" will just make their eyes glaze over. Unless it's jaw-dropping, it has no impact.

I've come across two ad campaigns in the past week that were very effective in shocking me.

In the first, the voiceover on the radio said that, when Florence Nightingale arrived at the military hospital in Turkey, the mortality rate dropped from 60% to 2%. I actually said "Wow!" to myself as I was driving in my car. The tagline was, "That's the power of nurses."

In the second ad, this one from a TV commercial showing a little boy playing miniature golf with his dad, the text on the screen read:

The odds of a child becoming a professional golfer: 1 in 140,000
The odds of a child being diagnosed with autism: 1 in 150

This, of course, was a PSA for autism awareness. Other statistics used in the TV and print campaign include, "Odds of a child being in a Broadway show: 1 in 11,000," "Odds of a child becoming a top fashion designer: 1 in 7,000," and "Odds of a child performing at Carnegie Hall: 1 in 73,000.

The key to both of these campaigns is the contrast between the two numbers and what that contrast reveals.

In the Florence Nightingale ad, it was a contrast demonstrating a before and after scenario, emphasizing how important nurses are to the medical profession.

In the second campaign, the contrast was between parents' hopes and dreams for their children and the prevalence of autism, a more probable outcome.

Both campaigns use a shocking statistic effectively. Is there a jaw-dropping shocking statistic you can use in your presentation?

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