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We’ve all been a casualty of data dumps in bad presentations.

The graphs, charts and tables surrounded by tiny text where the presenter gleefully says, ‘You probably won’t be able to read this so I’ll read it for you.’

Many professionals craft and prepare their presentations in the belief that the key to success is to give their audience as much information and as data as possible. The net result of that mind-set is a room full of fellow human beings working desperately hard to filter the data to find what is relevant and matters to them. At Mindful Presenter we see less than alluring visuals every week working with some of the most creative, intelligent and talented professionals in the world.

Why is that?

Throughout our schooling and education most of us aren’t taught how to tell stories with data and so we simply follow the pack and do what we see everyone else doing.

There is another way; the mindful way.

The following 4 tips will help you to craft a data based presentation in a way that will your audience will thank you for.

1. Find the needle first

Have you noticed that many presenters will fill an entire slide with a maelstrom of data with the intention of taking you on an exploratory journey of everything they know? To the mediocre presenter it’s the essence of their presentation as it’s designed to show you how hard they have worked, how clever they are and how robust their analysis is. The saying, ‘it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack’ is one we are all very familiar with. They proceed to explain the ‘haystack’ when all you care about and want to see is the ‘needle’.

The presenter’s job is to find the ‘needle’ first.

In this context the ‘needle’ of course represents what the audience needs to know to help them to understand your point and help them to make a decision.

Show them the ‘needle’ and tell them the specific story that’s relevant to how you found it, why it’s so important and why it matters to them. Make sure that you carry the ‘hay’ along with you in case you need to present it but don’t give it to them unless you have to.

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2. The 90 second story

However interesting and compelling you believe the data may be to you, please know that not everyone will feel the same. Before you sit down to craft the way you will present the information ask yourself this, ‘What if I only had 90 seconds to tell my audience what they really need to know?

Whilst you may have 20 minutes or much longer to present your ideas this is a powerful way of ensuring that you are focused on the ‘needle’ and are clear on the story behind its significance.

At the heart of your 90 second story is your message which is as clear and concise as a tweet and has great relevance and value to your audience. Once you have that level of clarity then find a way to capture their immediate attention, interest and curiosity before you share your message.

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3. Lighten their load

Every single number, symbol, image and piece of text on a slide takes your audience brain power to process; scientists call it ‘Cognitive load’.

Remember that meeting you went to recently where the speaker projected a slide with 12 bullet points? That on its own was enough to compel you to want to reach for your iPhone but that one slide was quickly followed by slide after slide of complex charts, graphs or spreadsheets. If you felt any level of discomfort as you endured that you were experiencing excessive ‘cognitive load’.

In simple terms, your brain was overloaded with information that it simply couldn’t process and certainly wouldn’t remember.

At Mindful Presenter we call it ‘clutter’.

Don’t blind your audience with a deluge of numbers or bullet points, just show them what they really need to know and make it stand out.

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4. Design it, don’t build it

If you really want to make an impact, connect with your audience and make your presentation memorable then you have to think like a designer. Before you exclaim your role and expertise and insist that you are not a designer recognise that you owe it to your audience to think as though you are.

Numbers can feel a little cold and intimidating but the key numbers brought to life with a compelling image brings focus. The fact is that people have far better recall for pictures and images than they do text and numbers on their own. A good designer brings the numbers to life through the use of images using colour, contrast and focus.

The key is to make the pictures relevant and compelling, avoiding using obvious images such as a target board with an arrow in it to present your targets.

Never stretch images; use large ones

Use high quality images; not blurry ones

Don’t use multiple images on a slide; find one and stick with it

Avoid clip art like the plague

Avoid distracting images, dots, swirls, rainbows, etc.

Be creative but be consistent

You’ll never find a good TED presenter using boring templates.


It’s never really about the data; it’s about the story behind the data. It’s about what the data means, why your audience needs to know it and why they should care.

Image courtesy of: Google Images & Flickr.com