How to Weave Statistics Into Your Speech
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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.
- 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?
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
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.