5 Ways to Use Statistics for Maximum Impact

Note: This blog entry is an excerpt from my latest book World Class Speaking that I co-authored with Mitch Meyerson.

1. Do not Drop Stats off; Drive them Home

Many times you will see a speaker go into a list of statistics in order to prove his or her point. Statistics are certainly desirable in speaking, but only if you use them in an effective way. Simply listing statistics is not enough. You must interpret them so your audience knows exactly what they mean to them.  For example, I have often used the following statistic when driving home a point about life-long learning: “Each year you will spend between 500 and 1000 hours in an automobile.” This statistic might be interesting but it certainly is not compelling. That is because it has not been driven home. Here is how you might drive it home:

“Each year you will spend between 500 and 1000 hours in an automobile. If you live to be 75 years old, you will spend approximately 7-10 years of your life in an automobile. Seven years! Here is my question to you. What are you doing with that time? [pause]. Are you simply passing time or using it? Do you know 10 years is enough time for two PhDs? Again, what are you doing with that time? [pause]. I suggest turning your car into a rolling university. You can listen to audio books and quickly become an expert compared to the rest of the country. Oh, but there is one caveat. Please do not use any meditation tapes in the car!”

This is how you can drive a point home by showing your audience exactly how that statistic affects them and what they can do about it. Don’t just drop off the statistic, but drive it home.

2. Use Statistics within a Story

One of the best ways to drive home statistics is by using them inside of your stories. For example, I tell a story about a homeless woman who began teaching me the power of using my imagination to create my future. In the middle of the story, I state the following:

“She struck a chord in me, and anytime someone strikes a chord in me, I go to my rule of three. By the way, if you use this rule, you will be light years ahead of most people in any endeavor you choose. What is it? It is simple. I read three books on that topic. Why? Unfortunately, the average American reads less than one book per year. And 58% of Americans, that is almost 6 out of every 10 Americans, never read another non-fiction book after they finish with their formal education. I have to tell you that the world is wide open for people who are willing to read! So I read something somewhere that said if you read 3 books on any one topic, then you are an expert on that topic compared to the rest of the country. [pause] Do not too get excited; you are an expert by default because nobody else reads! Nevertheless you are ahead of the game. So I read 3 books on Imagination, one was Creative Visualization by…”

If I had stopped at the fact that the average American reads one book per year, then I would have simply dropped off the statistic instead of driving it home. I drove it home by letting my audience know how it affects them and how they can use it to their advantage. In other words, they can get light years ahead of any competition by reading 3 books on a single topic. After this statistic, I continue my story about the homeless woman and how the 3 books on imagination lead to me winning the 1999 World Championship of Public Speaking. Because I cited the statistic within the story, my audience was able to see first-hand how using the statistic to my advantage really paid off. Therefore, they were sold on the benefits and primed to take action (i.e. read 3 books).

3. Statistic vs. Story

The problem with simply listing statistics is that they are relatively impersonal and unemotional. Of course we think, “Oh that is terrible” when we hear about millions of people with AIDS or thousands upon thousands of people living in poverty. However, those statistics will not bring us to tears like the story of one person will. A story will outdo statistics every time. Please remember that your audience makes decisions based on emotion backed up by logic. The story is the emotion while the statistic is the logic. Stating that 1000 people were mugged this year will not touch us like the one story about little Jenny being mugged will. Little Jenny will outdo big statistics every time. Use statistics to back up and give depth to Little Jenny’s story.

4. Literally point us to the source

Whether you cite statistics or a sentence from someone’s work, please attribute them. In addition, there is an advanced way to have your audience members leave your speech thinking, “Wow, I really got more out of that than what I expected?” What you can do is not only mention the source where you got your statistic or your statement, but point them directly to it. This gives them the opportunity to further their research it if they want. For example, in my speech, I say:

“If you pick up Michael Port’s book called Book Yourself Solid, thumb through to page 36, and look down at the very last sentence in the second paragraph, you will come across the following powerful statement: ‘Most business problems are personal problems in disguise.'”

Now isn’t that much more visual than simply saying, “Michael Port once said…” It is better because it builds credibility for you. Your audience knows you read it firsthand. Plus, it gives your audience a page to turn to in that book and a reason to purchase it. Remember, if they leave your speech and purchase a book you referred, then you are still touching their lives long after you left the speaking platform. That is the kind of impact you want as a speaker. Point them directly to the source.

5. Use Statistics for Involvement

Finally, you can also use statistics to get your audience involved and to strengthen the kinesthetic connection you have with them. For example, I once heard a fantastic motivational speaker say this to a conference of aspiring speakers:

“Look around you. Look to the person on your left. Now look to the person on your right. Next year at this time, only half you will still be in this organization. Statistics show that half of you will give up. Half of you will not renew your membership. You will give up and quit. Those of you who stay will be winners.”

That was very powerful to us newbie speakers because nobody wanted to be in that bottom half of quitters that would be absent next year. When I have my own tough speeches today, I still think back to what that speaker said. As a result, I keep thinking, “I’ll keep coming back no matter what.” His long-lasting effect is what you want as a speaker and the proper use of statistics will help you make it.

Final Thoughts:

If you put these 5 ways to work for you, that is exactly what they will do. They will work for you. Most speakers list their stats and lose their audience. You can use these 5 ways to win time and time again with your audience. Keep speaking up.

For more ideas that can make you a speaker in high demand, click here to get the World Class Speaking Book

Craig Valentine

As a motivational speaker I've been fortunate to have spoken in over 20 countries, and back in 1999 Toastmasters International awarded me the World Champion of Public Speaking.

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