How to Weave Statistics Into Your Speech

This article is part of the 12 Days of Ask Six Minutes.
This event is over now, but you can send your questions anytime.

Has this ever happened to you?

You’ve discovered a fascinating statistic that clinches your persuasive argument. You save it for your last point, and deliver it clearly. You expect a wave of emotion to hit your audience, but…

Nothing. Your audience doesn’t react at all. Do they not get it?

If this sounds familiar, then you are not alone. A Six Minutes subscriber, Akiko Takeshita, sends this question via email:

I wonder if you have any advice for working statistics into a speech. Sometimes it works for me, but I often feel like the audience isn’t impacted by the statistic when the statistic seems very powerful to me. What am I doing wrong?

In this article, we examine the importance of using statistics in your speech, and how to do so effectively.

Why use statistics in your speech?

Knowing how to leverage statistics in your speech is an important skill.

Want to learn more?
You can read much more about these persuasive elements in an article series: Ethos, Pathos, Logos: 3 Pillars of Public Speaking
  • Statistics add realism to your speech. It’s okay to talk about big ideas in abstract terms, but you also have to make it real. Numbers and facts are one way to staple your speech arguments to reality (thus boosting logos). For example, claiming that correctly setting your tire pressure will increase your fuel mileage is one thing. But stating that it could save $500 a year in fuel costs is much better.
  • Statistics can have an emotional impact (pathos) on your audience. For example, you can amplify the emotional response in your speech about poverty by revealing the percentage of children in your community who will not be receiving gifts this holiday season.
  • Statistics raise your credibility (ethos) in two ways. First, using a statistic demonstrates that you’ve done research and are working hard for the audience. Second, using statistics from trusted sources (e.g. the World Health Organization) boosts your credibility by association.
  • Statistics can be memorable, sticking with your audience beyond the duration of your speech.

How do you choose the right statistics?

Numbers and facts are one way to staple your speech arguments to reality.

If you plunge yourself into research for your topic, you’ll find that you are soon swimming in statistics. With so much data to choose from, how do you decide which material to use?

Here are several factors to consider when making your choice:

  • Which statistics would impact your audience most? While it helps if you feel the statistic is powerful (so you can speak with sincerity), it’s more important to choose statistics that your audience will find powerful.
  • Which statistics are most surprising? This, too, is dependent on the audience. Your goal is to have your audience members leave the room and say to their friends, “You’ll never believe what I learned in a speech today…
  • Which statistics help validate your individual arguments? Statistics should not be included in your speech because they are merely interesting trivia; they must be closely tied to your core message or supporting points. If it isn’t relevant to your speech, your audience may remember the statistic, but they won’t remember you or your message.

The art of weaving the statistic into your speech.

If you remember just one thing from this article, remember this: you must provide a meaningful context for your statistics. A naked statistic will not impact your audience if they do not have the background knowledge to assess it properly.

For example, suppose I tell you that Six Minutes has ten thousand subscribers. You may be impressed, but you may not. Is that a big number? A small number?

However, if I also tell you that this makes Six Minutes one of the most popular speaking blogs on the planet (or perhaps the most popular), this allows you to interpret the statistic in a more meaningful context.

  • Follow up the statistic with a comparison in concrete terms to which your audience can relate.
  • Bring your statistic to life by telling the story of one of the “numbers”. For example, if your statistic is the number of people with breast cancer, you might begin by telling the story of a breast cancer victim and then reveal that “she is just one of 100,000 women in this country who will find out they have cancer this year.”
  • Compare the statistic to itself earlier in time. The most powerful aspect may be to see how the value has changed from one year to the next, or from one decade to the next.
  • Don’t rely on your audience to just “get it.” Explain the connection between the statistic and your message. A direct approach is usually best, such as “This is important because…

Delivering the statistic for maximum effect

Want to learn more?
Using statistics well is one of the 25 essential speaking skills. What are the other 24?

Assuming you’ve used one of the earlier tips for weaving the statistic into your speech, your effectiveness still hinges on successful delivery. Here are a few techniques you can use to maximize the effect you desire:

  • Hint at its importance. You can do this earlier in the speech to build suspense (e.g. “In a few moments, I’m going to reveal a shocking statistic that will make you change the way you view civic politics…“) or use a quick, immediate approach (e.g. “If you remember just one thing from this speech, remember this…“)
  • Pause immediately before the statistic to create suspense.
  • Articulate clearly, and speak slightly slower than your normal rate. This will also signal the importance of the statistic.
  • Pause immediately after the statistic (a little longer than before) to give your audience time to process the meaning and “feel” the impact.
  • Use gestures to demonstrate the magnitude. Standing with your arms wide open, for example, creates a sense of size.
  • Use facial expressions to convey the appropriate reaction. (i.e. show your own shock, surprise, sadness, etc.)
  • If you are speaking with slides, you might reveal a slide to coincide with your statistic. You could use a chart to highlight the magnitude of the number, or you could use a photograph to strike a more emotional tone. Whatever you do, make sure that slide is simple! You want your audience to easily digest the meaning along with your spoken words.

Your Turn: What’s Your Opinion?

Have you had success with statistics in your speeches? What works for you? What doesn’t?

Please share in the comments.

Please share this...


This is one of many public speaking articles featured on Six Minutes.
Subscribe to Six Minutes for free to receive future articles.

Comments icon10 Comments

  1. I’ve not used statistics very often, but your advice will certainly be used when the need arrives, Andrew.

    Very good suggestions.

    Thanks for the Post!

  2. xeli says:

    Depending on the size of the audience, nature of the speech and layout of the room, I sometimes pass around (or place in advance), one piece of paper (or an object related to the topic) and position it in such a way that it is not to be looked at, turned over, examined etc until the point in the speech where the statistic it is related to is reached. Asking the audience to do so also forces the speaker to pause for emphasis…

  3. Marilyn says:

    This is a very helpful and interesting article. It confirms an evaluation I heard earlier this week in which the evaluator made a suggestion to the speaker (toastmasters CC #2) that a few statistics would have heightened the impact of his speech even further. Thanks you, and keep blogging!

  4. Choosing the right statistics – this was great information. There are way too many presentations delivered that are flooded with numbers that lack either relevance to the audience or any kind of “wow” factor. Mostly what I hear is a never-ending parade of numbers that I find hard to connect to.

  5. Great post – very comprehensive and complete. This area is a minefield though. I’ve coached scientists on the subject and challenge. Here’s my own post about it:

  6. It’s sad how many people bore their audiences with unmemorable data dumps. They just drop the figures and ride on! Using stats like that makes a presentation look like an amateur boxer’s dentition — plenty of ugly holes in their! The thing has got to gel and flow with the message. Then, you’ll have something like a supermodel’s smile on a pretty face.

  7. Jon says:

    I enjoy using statistics in my speeches, and I think the “why” can be summed up with one word: compelling.

    I think stats make a speech more compelling, especially when it is used to persuade an audience.

    Good post.

  8. Dear Sir,
    Really, It is very interesting article to read.I will suggest to my students too.

    All the best.

  9. Katunge Kiilu says:

    Your article echoed my sentiments! I work in a statistics bureau and you can imgine how uphill a task it has been, trying to get my statistician and economist colleagues to “break the formulae” in an easily comprehensible way. Thank you.

  10. Good point about stats evoking an emotional response. In business, too often people present big chunks of a spreadsheet, which has nowhere near the impact of a single, striking number!

    You might like these 3 video examples of opening a talk with a statistic. Comments (agreeing/disagreeing) are always welcome.

Tweets iconRecent Tweets

Links icon1 Blog Link