Crossing an Ocean of Data Without Drowning

How to present data without losing the audience

By: Daniela Liberman, Trainer and Consultant for Barry Katz Ltd.

In the worlds of medicine, hi-tech and science, the amount of information and data is vast.

Presenting data in medicine can save lives, in high-tech it can facilitate large acquisitions and in science, it can lead to exciting discoveries. Whether at a professional conference, advisory board meeting or an investor pitch in the healthcare industry, presenters are often required to make information accessible. This is not an easy task.

Many content experts I meet are convinced that every piece of data they present is critical, interesting and relevant. They often believe that if they say any less than just about everything they know, they are committing a sin against the professional truth. A lot of presenters think that it will make them look less intelligent, less knowledgeable and less professional. But is that so? Is every piece of data critical?

On the contrary, our audience isn’t always familiar with the professional aspect like we are. If we explain all the data and information that we know, all the movements of molecules and proteins in an experiment we conducted, not only will it not add value for them, it can become exhausting and confusing. Such presentations are called Data Dumping and they don’t leave a good impression.

When we present only what is necessary to achieve our goal, out of all our knowledge, data and experience, we create a good impression, and moreover, your audience will appreciate it. When we are sharp, focused and say fewer things, we come across as more impressive and professional.

Have you ever wondered what happens to an audience in presentations that are filled with data and information they don’t understand or aren’t familiar with?

1. They become bored and disengage from the content and/or the presenter.

2. They forget most of it. Research shows that after 48 hours, people only remember 5%-10% of what you said!

So it’s important to understand what the audience actually remembers. 

How can we make sure they remember the main messages needed to make the right decisions?

Can we ensure that our audience remembers more than 5%-10% of what we share?

Picture the content as grains of data that we would like to feed our audience. We use the presentation as a capsule that contains all the grains and which helps the audience swallow and process them.

Too much content? The capsule explodes and disintegrates into lots of particles, and the audience is lost. If we avoid cramming as much content as possible into the given time frame, we help the audience “swallow the information capsule”.

So what should we focus on when presenting clinical data?

1. Summary/abstract: Just like you start reading an article from its abstract, the audience wants to get a summary of things at the start. So present the most significant piece of information in the opening and later show them the method and conclusions.

2. The result: What’s the bottom line? What’s the solution to the mystery? What did you discover in the experiment? What’s the unique result that makes this medicine better than its competitors? Make sure your audience understands the importance of the discovery. Adjust statements to match the language and degree of clinical understanding of your audience.

3. Consequences: This is what the audience cares about most. What are the consequences for them? What should they take into account and/or do differently? Everyone asks themselves, “So what? Why should I care, listen and take action?” Put yourself in the shoes of the audience and answer this critical question.

And here is a tip from professionals:

Convert data into stories – Focus on the insights and the story beyond the piece of information itself. Illustrate it with an example Reference a case study, incorporate an analogy that connects with your special findings, tell a story from personal experience. Studies show that our brain is significantly more active when listening to stories than a list of facts. People connect to stories, get excited about stories and share stories. A story will be much more memorable over time.

In conclusion, most presentations fail due to an overload of data and a lack of focus. Audiences remember short and easy-to-understand messages that create value for them.

The more experienced we are, the less our challenge is about “what to say” than what not to say. What can we leave out in order to ensure we pass on the full message to our audience??

It is a field one specializes in and, like many things, it requires practice. You can begin practicing by focusing on the main ideas. Try it in your next session.

So from now on, to avoid drowning in an ocean of data, lower the water level.

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