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Influence your audience with data

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“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

The term was popularised in the United States by Mark Twain (among others), who attributed it to the 19th-century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881). In today’s information overload world, the need to use data in business is a necessary tool for an effective communicator. Big data is here.


Today’s article looks at three guidelines when using data to influence your audience:
1. Don’t lie or mis-lead

I once heard a CEO from a major coaching association stand up and give a confident presentation full of his insights, trends and forecasts from his research of talking with … 16 people.

Now maybe these were the 16 most important people in the field. Or maybe they were the 16 most insightful people. But let’s face it, it’s a little dangerous to make big bold predictions from a sample size of 16. While industry leaders, gurus and media titans are great food for thought, they can often skew the outcomes. Always explain your sample size and the implications this has on the data itself.

Another common mistake occurs when visually displaying data. When you’re using a bar chart for example, always use a baseline of zero. The two charts below will show you the impact of starting a baseline from anything else.


The first chart shows what looks like a massive increase in one year:

You’ll notice that the scale actually starts from 79,000 so that the increase from 1998 to 1999 looks significant.

Plotting the same data with a baseline of zero gives a different picture:

In this chart the increase looks much less “massive”.


2. Comparisons and contrasts

Single data points carry very little meaning and are instantly forgotten unless you are a subject matter expect within that particular niche.

I once heard an engineer stating that his products had helped to take out one billion grams of fat from the US diet. That sounds like a lot but can you imagine how much that is?

Instead, comparing it to population of New York City gives a better indication of the magnitude of how much fat was really removed.

When Apple were marketing the iPhone 5, they contrasted it’s dimensions with the iPhone 4 so that the new phone was “18% thinner and 20% lighter”. This brings out the incremental improvements in a better light than may at first be obvious when comparing the two phones.

Comparisons and contrasts are especially useful because they take a complex subject and should the most important similarities or differences.

Remember that the amount of detail you show will depend on your audience. So the example below show how Apple compares and contrasts in China, where a higher comfort with technical specifications and a higher focus on price exists.

3. Tell your story behind the numbers

Whatever your data set, you can always find a way to personalise or humanise the way you introduce it. This is known as telling the story behind the numbers.

Overwhelming an audience with a slide back full of numbers is not an effective way for them to internalise or remember your message. Instead, your data should be used as a way to strengthen the message you wish to convey throughout your presentation.

Whatever story or anecdote you choose to share it should follow these checkpoints:

A. Memorable or meaningful to the audience

The audience can relate to the story, understand it quickly and likely to remember it.

B. Impactful

Help your audience remember the point by making your story clear, concise and finish with a precise point.

C. Personal

Ideally, as an expert on your subject, you’ll be able to share a story that comes from your experience. This adds credibility to you as the expert.

Types of business stories:

  • Give an example from your own experience
  • Share an example that you’ve observed your colleagues doing
  • Share a customer story
  • Give some insight from your company’s culture or values
  • Recount the lessons from your CEO or founder
  • Explain how this number was reached
  • Show what the number means to the audience

Adjust to your audience

In a Harvard Business Review article titled “How to Tell a Story with Data,” Dell Executive Strategist Jim Stikeleather explains how you can divide up your audience based on their technical knowledge.

These levels are novice, generalist, management, expert and executive:

The novice is new to a subject so likes it clear but not too simple.

The generalist is aware of a topic and looks for an overview and the main themes.

The management seeks detailed understanding.

The expert wants to deep dive into discovery and limit vague storytelling.

The executive needs to know the significance and conclusions.


Using data to influence is a necessary part of an effective communicator’s arsenal. Use these guidelines to ensure that your data doesn’t bore the audience but engages and leads them to the points you wish them to remember. First, never mis-lead. Then use contrasts and comparisons to give context to your data. Finally, add anecdotes, stories and examples to personalise the main points you wish them to remember.


Five Metaphors you can use to better influence your audience

One of the key challenges in influencing is to use a range of influencing techniques. Many business executives commonly use data to influence. To be honest, data is often overused, and many business professionals do not use data in an influential way. We will cover how to better use data in a difference letter. Today I would like to introduce the idea of using a more visual way to influence. There are various techniques that you can use when it comes to using a more visual approach. For example, storytelling, sharing anecdotes and personal experiences. The reason why visual influencing techniques are effective is because they allow the other person to “see” the ideas that you wish to convey. Storytelling is a very powerful and deep form of communication for humans. As children, we love to hear stories. As adults, billions of dollars are spent on entertainment such as going to movies, watching videos and playing video games. Reading fiction allows the reader to visually create the story in their own minds. So the ability to use visual images to allow the other person to see the ideas that you wish to share is a powerful, memorable way to communicate and influence.

Today I’d like to share a technique around using metaphors. Metaphors are commonly used in business. For example the famous Chinese book, The Art of War by Sun Tzu, is frequently referenced in business. Here the metaphor of war is applied to the world of business. There are many metaphors that you can use in business to convey a visual picture let’s look at some them.

1. The metaphor of a ship
Let’s imagine that you wish to describe your organization and you want to use a metaphor to do so. You could use a metaphor such as a ship. The ship, like an organization, is a complex system. You could think of a ship as going on a journey, you think of the ship as having to be constantly in motion, a ship always has to be making correctional changes to reach its target, a ship has a captain that decides on direction, ship has a crew who needs to be working together to help the ship reach it’s destination. A ship could be considered as going on an adventure, you could use metaphors of Christopher Columbus or in China you have a similar general, Zheng he. You can use different types of ship. Consider the classic voyaging ships from the 18th century. They convey the sense of adventure, facing undiscovered worlds and the hardships that go along with being pioneers. Alternatively, you could also have a different metaphor if you wanted to focus on speed. Perhaps then a better metaphor is not a huge ship but a small faster speedboats that can adapt quicker and is more flexible to the environment. The business environment that many companies operate in is harsh and changes rapidly. If you stand still, you get beaten. Many technology companies face this reality. You could use the metaphor of having to decide to go through a storm or go around the storm. When it comes to the crew, you can talk about how it’s important that everybody pulls together and works together. If you are talking to an audience who were familiar with the America’s Cup you could use the idea of a race and the technology that goes into the modern yachts. The most important aspect of a metaphor is that the audience can very easily picture and also understand it.

2. The metaphor of a machine
Another example that you could use when it comes to using a metaphor is you could talk about an organization as a machine. You could talk about the importance of process, a system, you could talk about the need to increase effectiveness and efficiency. You could use examples of businesses that are regarded as machines, for example when it comes to franchising, such companies such as Starbucks or McDonald’s have very effective systems to open and serve a huge network of stores. The metaphor such as the machine focuses on cost and consistency and delivering the same experience every time. On the other hand using a metaphor such as the machine is slightly cold in the sense that it’s not something that people naturally appeal to. While many organizations have very systematic processes underpinning their success, they won’t necessarily focus on this when communicating with their staff and customers. An organization may not actually wish to be seen as a machine. However you also have to relate the metaphor to to your audience. So for example if you’re presenting to a group of technical people or  to blue-collar workers who were very familiar and have hands-on experience of machinery, then this would be a good metaphor. You could expand this metaphor to include the importance of maintenance,safety and quality.

3. The metaphor of natural environment
You could also use a metaphor such as the natural environment. You could use nature as  a metaphor to show how a business needs to evolve, how it needs to compete for resources to survive  by gaining an advantage against other organisms competing around it. This type of organization needs to respond to its environment and needs to be able to learn and adapt to be able to grow. This is quite different from the machine metaphor because once machine is set up and and its programmed to run, it stays the same, it doesn’t evolve. If you’re using nature as a metaphor, then there is not some central controller. In the ship metaphor you could say that the captain was in control of directing the ship. But with a natural environment maybe there’s an ecology maybe there’s a lot of interdependencies so it’s not clear who’s in charge. Today many companies operating in a matrix organization where reporting lines are more complex than before. By using nature as a metaphor you could talk about ideas of whether your actions have a bigger impact on the environment or if the environment has a bigger impact on you. You can talk about how a company needs to respond to the market, needs to be agile. In this metaphor you could say that a company’s focus needs to be more focused on external influences rather than internal influences. We could make the case that external influences have a much stronger impact on an organization. You could also take this metaphor forward by thinking about what kind of organism or natural metaphor could be used. Is our business more like a spider’s web where we need to adapt to the environments, we need to have different connections, we need to be able to survive. Even when one part of the web is destroyed, the other parts of the web can still do their jobs. Select a relevant and appropriate image that conveys the message effectively. While financial firm, Merrill Lynch were known as the “thundering herd” in their early days. Post financial crisis and acquisition by Bank of America, this is downplayed although they still retain their bull logo.

4. The metaphor of sports
Another commonly used metaphor when it comes to business is sports. In many countries football or soccer is the most popular sports and that’s an easy one to use. You could have a look at your organization as a football team. For example, you have the manager with a supporting coaching team which could be linked to the leadership team, you have the people performing on the football pitch, the fans in the stadium cheering them on and the media projecting their brands around the world. There’s lots of ways that you could use as a sports team as a metaphor. Depending on the culture that you wanted to influence, you could use different sports metaphors. So for example in America, baseball and American football would be would be a better metaphor. In Brazil, football. In China you could use volleyball or basketball. The advantage of a sports metaphor is the idea of being competitive and staying competitive in competing with other teams. Also most sports result in winners and losers. Except of course if your country plays the unusual game of cricket, where two teams can play together for five days and the result can be a draw. There are very few sports played in the 21st century where this can happen. You got the British to thank for that. You can also use the language of sports in your metaphor. You can talk about a project “kick off”. You can take a “time out” to review activities. You can analyse the situation at half time. You can advise your team to “keep their eye on the ball”.

5. The metaphor of a movie
You could also use that the metaphors of the movie industry to relate to your business. The production of a movie is a large and complex process. You have the talent acting in the movie,  the movie director to work with the talents and of course the behind-the-scenes guys like the script writers, the video animators, and other technical guys who all need to work together, on a demanding schedule.  You have the importance of the publicity and marketing departments and of course you have the fans. Have a look at the type of movies your target audience are watching and see how you can relate it to them. If you’re conveying a change message to a younger audience, think about using Transformers as a metaphor. Large epic projects may be matched to Lord of the Rings. Go and watch every movie that grosses over USD500m at the box office, even if it’s not to your usual tastes. Watch it and look for the metaphors that are connecting to the target audiences. There is most likely a strong powerful story line or great archetypes that you can learn.

So you can see when it comes to using metaphors, you are only limited by your creativity and your ability to link your metaphor to a picture that is easily understood by your audience. Recently I’ve been speaking in Asian countries like Japan, China and Thailand with audiences ranging from high school students to executives in multinational companies. The metaphors that I use when I’m facing these different audiences will vary. When I’m facing a younger audience I will do some research to find out what are the  current popular movies, hot brands or singers in that culture for that particular age group. Then I will find a way to link my message to these metaphors. In that way I’m helping the audience to digest my message by providing them a picture that is easily understood because they are already familiar with the particular metaphor whether it’s a singer or actor or brands. Finding ways to link your message to a metaphor or image is a very powerful way to influence because it’s memorable, it’s easily understood, and often you find that it sticks far longer after your presentation.

Action – Next Steps
So for your next presentation think about a message that you want to convey and then try and find a metaphor that you can link it to. Good luck and if you would like to share your metaphors or if you have any questions about how you could use your metaphors then please feel free to reach out. Send me an email or connect with me on LinkedIn.

The Engaging Speaker adds burst of enthusiasm to increase energy levels

You can also read this article in PDF. Download here.

The Engaging Speaker is a performer. However, her primary purpose is not entertainment. The purpose is not for the audience to watch spellbound. The Engaging Speaker knows that every talk is a chance to educate and inform, inspire and persuade. She has a clear communication purpose alongside her ability to entertain.

What’s the main difference between a performer and an educator? A performer knows how to vary the energy levels in the audience. The Engaging Speaker knows that shifting energy levels keep the audience’s attention and increases their engagement.

The Engaging Speaker leads this change in energy with bursts of enthusiasm. She carries the audience to a higher level. By turning up her enthusiasm dial from 5 out of 10 to 7, she makes it clear to the audience that she believes in her content, she believes in her message and she wants dearly for the audience to come along for the journey.

In my very first sales job, I was given a book to read on improving sales performance. I still remember that the first lesson was that more people are moved by enthusiasm than are ever influenced by information alone. Product knowledge is important. But it’s worthless unless you can connect with your audience first. The Engaging Speaker keeps that connection by adding bursts of enthusiasm.

How can you add enthusiasm? Imagine your telling a good friend about a great experience you just had. Perhaps a fun time out with friends or family. Think about how you tell the story. Your voice speed. How your tone pitching up and down. The laughter and smiles that accompany a good story. The transfer of energy from you to your friend. Enthusiasm is like electrify flowing between two people. The other person can’t help but be affected too. Enthusiasm is a great safe way to connect with your audience. Look for ways to add more enthusiasm into your next talk. Entertaining personal stories are usually a good place to start.

I work with technical professionals who want to engage and influence non-technical people through public speaking and presenting.

About the Author
“Warwick helps C-level executives, working in multinational companies based in Greater China, who need to become more confident and effective in their spoken communications. Warwick helps the executive project a clear message allowing them to express their opinions powerfully and gain respect from senior managers even when under pressure.”
Warwick is the author of “The One Minute Presenter: 8 steps to successful business presentations in a short attention span world”.
Buy The One Minute Presenter here.

7 things to know about how new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella communicates in public

Satya Nadella is the new CEO Microsoft. No doubt we’ll be hearing more from him over the years. But how does he fare as a smart and engaging communicator? Here are seven points to consider:

1. He’s a subject matter expert. When you listen to his interviews and keynote talks, you’ll be left in no doubt that Satya is a tech guy. He’s knows his stuff. You’ll hear him talking a lot about the cloud.

2. He looks the part. Satya is very well dressed and exudes the look of a business leader without looking too slick. He has presence.

3. Good energy. While not at the over-the-top energy levels of former-CEO Steve Ballmer, Nadella certainly brings good energy to his public talks. He has a clear voice, a good physical presence and cuts a dynamic figure. He brings good energy to the room.

4. During keynotes, he tends to speak a little on the fast side. Added to his high energy style this can become a little overwhelming after a while. His delivery can seem a little one tracked and one paced at times. A few pauses to break up ideas would help the audience digest his ideas. A shifting between energy states to create difference responses from the audience would improve his delivery.

5. He falls into the trap of a technical professional. He leads with content and forgets to have a message. If you stopped his keynote speech after five minutes and said, “Okay, so what was that about?”. You’d struggle to easily pick out a message or takeaway idea without retelling his ideas. Without a headline message, all the data points, process and buzzing ideas will be quickly forgotten.  As he becomes the figurehead of Microsoft, this will likely change. Why? See the next point.

6. I love the fact that he describes himself as a learner.  Satya defines his motivations as “Family, curiosity and a hunger for knowledge. “  This desire will make him a quick study and I’d expect we’ll see a very different public persona from Satya – especially to general and non-technical audiences – over the next 12 months.

7. He loves cricket. And if he can explain cricket to people who didn’t grow up with it – then there’s nothing he can’t explain!

To learn more about Satya Nadella, visit my Scoop page with articles from multiple sources. Click here.
Buy the e-book of The One Minute Presenter for only $10 Buy the e-book of The One Minute Presenter for only $10

The Engaging Speaker shares relevant personal anecdotes that support a message

Find your personal anecdotes

I recently went to renew my work visa. While changing metro lines I was walking along reading The Economist. I boarded the metro going the wrong direction. By the time I changed back and got to the train station, I missed my train by 2 minutes. I went to change my ticket for a later one and the ticketing system crashed. When I arrived in Suzhou, the taxi took me to the wrong road. Later in the day another taxi couldn’t find the government building. After completing one process, the lift went up instead of down. Unexpectedly, the payment process changed to credit card only, no cash. As I was taking the urgent track I had to pay an additional fee; cash no card.

Throughout this experience I didn’t get too stressed. In fact, despite all the small obstacles I finished the whole process in two hours. Having lived in China for so long I’ve come to understand that the best state of mind in these situations is to be calm and amused. As a triathlete, I’ve learned to race the race as it unfolds and not the one I had planned.


Taking the above anecdote, I could link it to several messages:

1. In China a calm state of mind works best.

2. A plan is only as good as how you react to changes in the plan

3. Be prepared. But be prepared to adapt.

4. Getting things done in China come with stress.


There could be several different types of messages that I could relate to the personal anecdote. Collect your experiences and think about messages that can help people learn from your experiences. People love stories and they’ll focus in when you tell them.


One final tip when telling anecdotes: add small concrete details to make your story come alive and feel more real. Mr Orange, played by Tim Roth, in Reservoir Dogs was an undercover cop trying to infiltrate a heist gang. The scenes where Mr Orange is rehearsing his story with his colleague is a great lesson on how to add the small but important details in a story.




What can Nordic design teach us about influencing skills?

I recently attended Nordic Innovation Week and was especially impressed by an event around what Nordic design is, how it’s regarded and how it can be used in China. As I listened to the three speakers, there were some good takeaways from an influencing and communication perspective :

Here’s what I observed:


Speaker 1: Lars Falk, VP of Design, China, Volvo.

Lars was talking around the context of building a design centre in China.

What he did well?

1. He made a human connection in the opening

Lars started by building rapport.

He showed his enthusiasm for the topic.

Shared his personal journey as a timeline.

He quoted Confucius “ wisdom is what you don’t know”

He contrasted the tastes of the Chinese consumers in 2011 and 2013.

He compared design tastes of different counties visually using their flags.


2. He set up the main content with a connecting question

So what does China want?”

This gets the audience thinking along the right lines. He answers the question in a nutshell (great material and exterior design) and then moves onto the body of his content.


3. Good structure for the main content

Lars divided his content into three parts; Proportions, Dimensions and Interior Design.

He used impactful visuals to make his points in each section.


4. Attention grabbing close

Lars used a powerful but simple pie chart showing how 96% of a car in China should be on par with the best in the world. While the final 4% should be something special for China. This one chart really summed up nicely his topic. Then he closed it out with a quote from Einstein.


Speaker 2: Henrik Larsson, Head of Architecture of Inter IKEA Centre China.

Henrik’s talk was around implementing Scandinavian design in China through the eyes of IKEA’s real estate developments.


What he did well?

1. Set the context

Henrik briefly described IKEA’s approach to building around their stores to create a more complete retail presence and their current projects with shopping centres in Beijing, Wuhan and Wuxi.


2. He had a clear overarching structure

Why we do it

What it is

How to do it

This helps to keep the audience’s direction on track through the 30min talk.


3. Soundbite messages

Henrik used short and snappy messages throughout his talk.

We unify

We save

Design makes a difference


4. Used a clear visual style for slides

When running through the “What is it” section, Henrik used various characteristics to explain Scandinavian design (human, modern, functional) and had a clear visual for each point. The consistency ran through the characteristics. A large picture with key words dominated each slide. Each picture was a metaphorical representation of the big idea.


5. Closing in reality

After abstract (and highly interesting) discussions around Nordic design, Henrik came back to reality and showed some plans from current developments. We learned about the anchor layout, how multiple attraction points are developed and key traffic pullers in each development. It was a good way to show how the principles are applied.


Speaker 3: Olle Carlbark Director SCA Innovation Centre in China, SCA.

Olle’s talk was based around introducing SCA and a case study of launching a product in the baby diaper market In China.


What he did well?

1. Set the journey

Olle opened with a quick slide showing the agenda clearly. Four sections:

This is SCA


Relaunch Sealer

China insights


2. Keep self-directed information short

I was interested to learn about SCA but sometimes company profiles can drag on. Olle kept it short and used visuals to show the wide range of brands his company covered. His message “Europe’s largest forest owner” was a nice soundbite.


3. Case study

A case study on relaunching a product with some innovative safety features and package design that catered to local needs was capped off with a video TV commercial. Using a mixture of media is a good way to break up your delivery. All media used should be relevant and consistent in quality and message.


4. Close with clarity

Olle finished with a slide showing main innovation drivers in China. Three points.




All speeches were well structured, included personal touches and generally had very clear impactful visuals. It helped make the experience of learning about Nordic design and how it’s applied in China enjoyable and easy to digest.


The Engaging Speaker is aware of the changing energy in the room

Surviving an Ironman race needs control of your energy

I’ve completed the grueling Ironman Triathlon which is a race involving a 3.8km open water swim, 180km bike ride and finishes with a marathon, back to back all on the same day. The race has a cut off time of 17 hours and I finished my last one in around 12 hours 30 mins. Needless to say, it’s a long day and your energy levels change throughout the day. Nervous excitement before the swim. Steady rhythmic effort to complete the swim. A burst of energy on the bike before settling into a long ride with ups and downs, trying to hold on to your pace in the final 60km while holding back enough for the run. The marathon starts at a lively pace. It’s the final segment and if everything falls apart, you can always walk. You hold a pace, keep it ticking over. Everything seems good until half way through, muscles start to cramp, pain comes. Your pace drops a bit, you fight it to keep going. From 30-38km, you’re in complete pain, you think about quitting or walking. Somehow you keep your body moving forward quietly encouraging yourself and feeding off the energy of the crowd’s cheers. Finally you hit 38km, you realize that in 2km it’s only 2km to go. You perk up. Your pace rises. You find a new wind. You’re going to finish. The final one kilometer, you’re hitting euphoric levels as your endorphins kick in. You finish the marathon practically sprinting, fall over the line and break down into a heap. Before standing up with a warm painful glow of completion. Success.


Energy levels change through a presentation

The Engaging Speaker is aware that energy levels change through a presentation. Shorter presentations are easier to plan. Longer full day sessions require more detailed mapping. Remember people are fresh in the morning so get right into the content. Keep things moving along. Set the tone for starting and ending breaks on time. Plan your afternoons particularly carefully. Participants energy levels tend to dip around an hour to two after lunch, especially if they’ve had a big hotel buffet lunch. During this time period, move towards more physical exercises. Add higher impact team activities. Move things around. Shift venues. Keep things moving, changing and adapting. Finish strong. Have a clear conclusion to the day. Keep a couple of short energizers in your pocket in case the energy plunges. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Ask the participants what they’d like to do to pick up the energy.


Be aware that you create the energy in the room, not the audience

If you looked at your last talk or upcoming presentation in terms of creating energy, what would your energy chart look like? Would it be high at the start and then gradually falling away to nothing? Would it be low at the beginning, peak in the middle and drift off? Or would it look like a read out of a healthy heart with regular peaks and troughs. A good presentation should start and finish strong but should allow time to reflect, time to pick things up and a time for interaction.


What energy map are you creating?

Map your presentation’s energy chart. Is it in line with your message? A rallying sales meeting will start high and finish higher. A senior management crisis talk will have moments of low before building up momentum towards the end. The Engaging Speaker sets the tone for the talk and creates the energy, the enthusiasm, the experience for the audience.

Big mistakes executives make while communicating

Speak without a clear message

Executives from technical disciplines, such as finance or engineering, often have a misconception that technical ability is more important than communicating effectively. The very skills that make technical experts successful actually prevent them from being promoted to senior management. They focus too heavily on process and small details when the situation requires something more concise. Unlike junior managers, a senior executive’s main role is to communicate a clear and compelling message.

Executives with presence understand how to tell the story behind the numbers, correctly balancing big-picture with small details. The best executives, such as Steve Jobs, communicate effectively using simple and concise language that conveys powerful and memorable messages. Jobs has honed this skill over the years and his product launches contain such gems as, “Today, Apple reinvents the phone” from the 2007 iPhone launch. This ability to express a situation in its simplest terms is often overlooked by technical executives. However, all effective executive communicators have mastered this art.

Here are some examples of four word messages which can be used as an “umbrella” message or overall message for a pitch, presentation, change initiative or campaign. Once you have an umbrella message, each supporting section would also be given a short message to summarize that section of information:

Better city, Better life” from Shanghai Expo 2010.
“The best-run businesses run SAP”from SAP Advertising campaign.
“Stay hungry, stay foolish” – Steve Jobs commencement address at Stanford, 2005.
“Real Estate for Your World” from Century 21.
“The Ultimate Driving Machine” from BMW.
“The Company for Women” from Avon Products, Inc.
“Expect More. Pay Less.” from Target Corporation.
“Photonics in the Fast Lane” from Thor Labs.
“The Miracles of Science” from DuPont.

Taken from the book “Speaking with Purpose: “How to present ideas that matter in 18 minutes or less”. Learn more about the workbook here.

About the Author

Warwick helps C-level executives, working in multinational companies based in Greater China, who need to become more confident and effective in their spoken communications. Warwick helps the executive project a clear message allowing them to express their opinions powerfully and gain respect from senior managers even when under pressure.”

Warwick is the author of “The One Minute Presenter: 8 steps to successful business presentations in a short attention span world”.

Buy The One Minute Presenter here.

Why are technical presentations so boring?

Well it depends who’s listening.

Obstacles when giving technical presentations to non-technical people:

  • Don’t adjust to audience’s level of understanding
  • Fear of exposure
  • The presenter’s style
  • Lack of skill in showcasing numbers
  • Forgotten storytelling skills


Don’t adjust to audience’s level of understanding

Giving a technical presentation to fellow technical people is easy. They see the world in a similar way to you. They understand your thinking and your acronyms. They know the context of your explanations. In short, they are much like you. It’s easier to be understood by people like us.

But what happens when you’re presenting to senior managers? I’ve seen this happen countless times. The technical presenter – whether from IT, engineering, quality assurance of finance – assume that the senior executives understand them. In fact, they often assume that because they’re senior managers they know the material BETTER than the technical presenter.

This is mostly not the case. Often the higher you go in an organisation the more distance a manager is from the heart of the technology, or techniques. A good presenter will adjust their content to match the audience’s level of understanding.


Fear of exposure

After ten years of working around Asia with technical professionals, I’ve come to believe that a trait of a technician is “I say too much because I know too much”. I think that these very intelligent people suffer from a fear of intellectual exposure. If they don’t show how smart they are on their subject matter expertise then they will be judged.
Often the opposite is the case. The reason why we like TED talks so much is because very intelligent people are talking on very technical topics and making them so very accessible for everyone. I think to use the analogy of you should be able to express what your presentation is about to an intelligent ten-year old. In today’s world you’re rewarded for saving people time and energy. Don’t worry we know you’re smart!

The presenter’s style

In my experience as a presentation skills educator, I’ve observed thousands of presentations from technical executives. I’ve noticed that they tend to be very process-driven. They start at the beginning and they end at the end, often going into excruciating details along the way. They tend to be deliver with a very steady and on-the-low-side energy level. They’re often completely focused on the data. This is largely due to the style of the presenter. Technical presenter’s love this style. Most audience’s don’t.

Lack of skill in showcasing numbers

Technical presentation need numbers. Often in detail. But does this mean that all the numbers should be shown all at once on one slide!

No. But why do so many presenters do this? I think it’s risk-aversion (another trait of technical presenters!). The thinking is “if I put all the numbers up, the audience will work out which ones are important”. But the presenter needs to shape the meaning. When working with numbers the law of contrast and comparison needs to be used. Presentation of numbers need to be simplified so that the data supports a particular message. This is simple to understand once you know the techniques. By judging from the amount of slides I see crammed full with charts and data tables, it’s not yet fully and widely understood.


Forgotten storytelling skills

What do stories have to do with technical presentations? Well, a lot. If you want to engage and hold an audience’s attention these days, you better learn story telling skills. Learn how to pace and adjust your voice and your energy levels. Learn the flow of a story. How to create tension or curiosity. And importantly how to have a morale (or message) to your story. You have to tell the story behind the numbers. That’s your job!


Ask us about “The Technical Presenter” Workshop which helps technical professionals communicate concisely, engagingly and memorably to non-technical audiences. Your meeting productivity will shoot up!

Warwick John Fahy and The One Minute Presenter Team


About the Author

Warwick helps C-level executives, working in multinational companies based in Greater China, who struggle to get their point across and influence their key stakeholders. Warwick helps the executive project their message with confidence allowing them to express their opinions powerfully and gain respect from senior managers even when under pressure.”

Warwick is the author of “The One Minute Presenter: 8 steps to successful business presentations in a short attention span world”.

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8 links to business articles that executives need to read

This week I have selected 8 links for business articles that I have been reading over the National Golden Week Holiday in China:

1. Why Business Meetings Are Often a Waste of Time — and Productivity

2. Do Like Steve Jobs Did: Don’t Follow Your Passion

3. Asking Better Questions Leads to Clarity and Develops Employees

4. Fall of a Hero. Why you just can’t trust anyone in elite cyclying to tell the truth

5. If I Read One More Platitude-Filled Mission Statement, I’ll Scream

6. Leadership Communication Is Key to Successful Change

7. Business Is Sweet. Godiva Chocolatier is enjoying double-digit growth, thanks in part to innovative chocolates and expansion in Asia, says CFO Dave Marberger.

8. CFOs: Do you find yourself feeling uncomfortable when asked to present to the Board of Directors?

 If you need to boost your leadership capacity, then learn more about Warwick’s services here.