Are You Presenting Your Data For Maximum Impact?

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You’ve collected this great data from your research, you’ve analyzed it and now it’s time to present it to your client, your stakeholders, and/or your team. The data will speak for itself, right? Not necessarily. In this episode of the Human Tech podcast we talk about how to present your data so that it will have the biggest impact and influence.

Scheduling Keynotes And Workshops for 2017

Just a quick note that we’ve started scheduling workshops and keynotes for 2017. We’re excited to be at the Habit Summit on April 4-5 with Nir Eyal, for example.

It seems like 2017 is a long way from now, but it will be here before you know it. If you’d like Susan or Guthrie to come give a talk or workshop let us know. We’re putting together some brand new topics that we think you will like.

(And if you want to try and squeeze something in before 2016 is over contact us at or call at 847-909-5946. Our 4th quarter is pretty full, but we’ll see if we can get you in.)

How To Get People To Do Stuff: #2 — Break Through A Confirmation Bias

A confirmation bias is a form of “cognitive illusion”. People tend to pay attention to what they already believe and filter out information that doesn’t fit with their opinions and beliefs. You can breakthrough these biases, however. Watch the video to find out how:

For more information check out:

Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast And Slow

and my new book (when it comes out in March 2013 — available for pre-order now at Amazon) How To Get People To Do Stuff

In order to get through a confirmation bias, start first with something you know the person or your audience already believes. That way they will let the information/communication in through their attention gate. Once you’ve made it past the confirmation filters you can then slip in a new idea.

What do you think? Have you tried this to break through a confirmation bias?

Top Ten Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People: #10 – People Imitate Your Emotions And Feelings

Man looking mad

Your facial expressions and body language communicate information and affect how people react to you and your message. They can also cause other people to start feeling a certain way.

People imitate what they see — If you are smiling, they will tend to smile; if you are energetic yet relaxed, then your audience will tend to be energetic and relaxed too. Which means YOU have to make sure you are rested, prepared, relaxed, and passionate about your topic. When you are, those feelings are communicated through your words, tone of voice, and body language and are picked up and felt by your audience.

Mirror neurons firing — Let’s say you are watching your friend who is holding an ice cream cone that is starting to drip. Your friend lifts her arm to lick the dripping cone. Mirror neurons in your brain will fire as though you are lifting your arm (even though you aren’t).

Mirror neurons are the starting point of empathy — The latest theory is that mirror neurons are also the way we empathize with others. We are literally experiencing what others are experiencing through these mirror neurons, and that allows us to deeply understand how another person feels.

(V.S. Ramachandran has a great Ted talk on mirror neurons.)

When you are passionate about your topic your audience will be passionate — People like to watch and listen to someone who is animated and excited about what they are talking about. If your topic does get you excited, don’t hold back. Show how you feel. That feeling will be contagious. If you aren’t excited about what you are talking about, then reconsider the topic or your approach to it. You need to find an angle on the topic at hand that will get you excited.

This post concludes the series: Top Ten Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People. Besides this post here are the other 9 (links below) or check out my book – 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People (link is in the sidebar to the right):

#9: If You Want People To Act You Have to Call Them To Action

#8: People Are Energized When The Room Is Full

#7: People Assign Meaning To Your Hand Gestures

#6: People Need To Feel Safe To Participate

#5: People Assign Meaning To Your Tone Of Voice

#4: People Read Your Body Positions Instantly & Unconsciously

#3: Multiple Sensory Channels Compete

#2: Writing By Hand Can Increase Commitment

#1: People Learn Best In 20 Minute Chunks


Top Ten Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People: #9 — If You Want People To Act You Have To Call Them To Action


Recently I attended a fund raiser. The speaker got up and gave a pretty good speech (I think he could have used a speech coach!), but at the end he didn’t have a call to action. There were people walking around with jars so you could donate, but no one had actually asked for the money.

In most presentations the reason you are giving the presentation is because you want people to take some kind of action. It might be to donate money, or time. Perhaps you are hoping they will think about a particular issue or topic in a different way. Maybe you want them to do something simple, such as attend a meeting the next day, or make a phone call to a colleague.

The best presentations always have a call to action — One reason is that the call to action gives structure and a “plot” to the rest of the presentation. In my book, 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People I show how to build the structure of the presentation around the call to action.

If you know what you want people to do, then you can figure out what it is you should say and present to them —  What is it that you can ask your audience to do after your talk is over? Where are they at now, where do you want them to be, and what action can you realistically ask them to take?

Consider having more than one call to action (but no more than 3 or 4) — For example, if you are preparing a presentation in order to persuade people to donate to a charity, then the call to action will likely be something like writing out a check for $100 to the charity.

You can have more than one call to action, for example, you could have:

*      Write out a check for $100 or fill out a credit card form

*      Get three friends to donate as well

*      Volunteer to help at the next fund-raising event

At the end of your presentations be very specific about what you want them to do — this is not the time to be vague. Be very specific about what they should do.

What do you think? Have you tried out using various calls to actions in your presentations?

Top Ten Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People: #8 — People Are Energized When The Room Is Full

Picture of a half filled auditorium
"Hell is a half-filled auditorium"... Robert Frost

There are many subtle and not so subtle ways that people change when they are together. Human behavior is a complex combination of interactions with other people. When people enter a room that is largely empty they will tend to position themselves evenly throughout the room. This means that while they are waiting for the presentation to start they will not necessarily be close to each other. The larger the room in relation to the number of people the bigger this effect will be.

If the room is full and there is lots of conversation it creates a sense of anticipation. It makes it seem that the presentation that is about to happen is important. It makes you, as the presenter, seem to be more important and therefore your message will seem more important.

Presenters are not immune to the subtle interactions either, so as a presenter when you enter and stand in front of a room that is buzzing with people and conversation it has an effect on you too. If you step into a room that is quiet and empty that will not energize you. Then there is a self-fulfilling prophecy — if you are energized you will give a better presentation and be more persuasive.

If possible you want to talk to the host of the event and see what you can do to get a room that will be mostly filled in order to have the most energy and excitement in the room before you start. This is true for small meetings as well as large. You want to avoid a large room with few people.

So is there anything you can do to avoid a half-filled room? Here are some of the ideas I’ve used:

Arrive early — You won’t be able to make any changes if you show up right before your presentation. Be sure to show up early to check-out the room and have the possibility of moving thing around.

Send a room plan ahead — If you know the expected size of the audience you can send a room layout chart ahead of time to the meeting host.

Re-arrange the furniture — If you are speaking in an auditorium you can’t move the chairs, but if you are in a room with movable chairs, and you show up early enough, then you can re-arrange the furniture. I would guess that I re-arrange the furniture 75% of the time when I show up in a room.

Re-arrange the objects in the room to affect where people sit — Take away any handouts, pads of paper, pens, etc, in one area of the room and concentrate all the materials together.

Talk to the meeting host ahead of time — Ask your hosts ahead of time how many people they are expecting, and then ask them to find a room that is the appropriate size so that it will be mostly filled.

What are your ideas? Do you find you are affected by how filled a room is? What have you tried to do to avoid half-filled rooms?

Top 10 Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People: #7 — People Assign Meaning To Your Hand Gestures

Presenter holding hands up in the air
Hands far away from the body mean "big idea" or "I'm chaotic"!

Everyone “talks” with their hands to some extent. Some people’s hand-talking or gesturing matches their message well. Other people have a tendency to make overly large gestures that can be distracting. Others don’t use their hands much at all. No matter which camp you fall into, it’s important to pay attention to your hand gestures while you are presenting, and perhaps try out some new ones. Some hand gestures are universal across all languages, geographies, and cultures:

Using no hand gestures at all — If you don’t use your hands at all when you are presenting that can be perceived as indifference. Your audience may feel that you don’t care about what you are talking about.

Hands hidden — If your audience can’t see your hands at all, it will be hard for them to trust you.

Hands open with palms up — If you gesture with your hands open and your palms up you are communicating that you are asking for something from the audience:

Man standing with hands open and palms up
Hands open, palms up means you are asking for something.

Hands open and your palms at a 45-degree angle  — communicates that you are being honest and open.

Woman with hands open at 45 degree angle
Hands open at 45 degree angle conveys openness and honesty


Hands open with palms down — Communicates that you are certain about what you are talking about.

Woman with palms down
Palms down communicates you are certain about what you are saying.

Hands at a 90-degree angle with your fingers together  — communicates that you have expertise about what you are talking about.

Woman with hands facing each other
Palms facing each other communicates you are an expert


Hands grasped in front of you — Communicates that you are nervous or tentative, as does touching your face, hair, or neck.

Hand gestures that are larger than the outlines of your body — communicates a large idea or concept. But if  all your hand gestures are large you will communicate that you are chaotic or out of control. (See the photo at the top of the post).

Hand gestures can have cultural meanings — A few years ago I was a speaker at a conference in Lisbon, Portugal. It was my first time in Portugal, and I became instantly enamored of the special custard pastries that Lisbon and Portugal are known for. One morning I went into a bakery and ordered two of the pastries. I did so by holding up two fingers, similar to the “victory” or “peace” gesture in the United States. The person behind the counter proceeded to put three pastries in a box. I later learned that the gesture for two would have been to raise my thumb and index finger. Even though my thumb wasn’t showing, the person behind the counter thought I was signaling for three.

I was lucky that I didn’t get into more trouble than an extra pastry. Many hand gestures are not universal. Before speaking in a country or to a culture that you are not familiar with, do some research to find out which gestures in your presentation might be misunderstood, not understood at all, or offensive.

What do you think? Have you experimented with hand gestures during your presentations?

A great book on body language:

The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help—or Hurt—How You Lead by Carol Kinsey Goman (2011).



Top 10 Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People: #6 — People Need To Feel Safe To Participate

Picture of Bobby McFerrin on state
Bobby McFerrin is a master of safe participation

The best performance I’ve ever been to (the best music, dance, theatre, speech — any kind of performance)  was by Bobby McFerrin. His performances involve music and extensive audience interaction. I saw him in a 1500-seat theatre in a small city in Wisconsin. The theatre was full, and from the start the audience was appreciative but reserved. But by the end of his 1.5-hour performance, he had the entire audience on the edge of their seats ready to do anything he asked of them, including coming up on stage. Bobby McFerrin is a master at getting people to participate.

Slow commitment and social validation — How does he get 1500 people to switch from being passive audience members to being part of the performance? Everyone is sitting in a theatre with strangers, and they don’t want to look silly. He gets them to first make just one small noise — sing a single, simple note, for just a second. Everyone makes the sound and then everyone laughs a little. He then builds on that one single note, and asks the audience for a little more, and a little more, often using his face and gestures only  — until everyone is freely participating. By the end of the night people are singing, jumping up to come on stage with him, laughing, and fully involved in the performance.

If you’ve never seen Bobby McFerrin engage audiences, you may want to see a little bit of him in action in this 3-minute video:

A master at safety — Bobby McFerrin is really a master at making people feel safe. He never ridicules or makes fun of anyone. His body language and comments make everyone feel that they are doing great—doing exactly what he expects and knows they can do. It feels safe to participate.

If you want people to participate in an exercise, or group activity in your presentaton then you could take some hints from Bobby McFerrin:

  • Start slow. Have people do one small activity before an activity that is longer or more complicated.
  • Make sure it’s always safe. Don’t ask people to do anything they are not comfortable doing, especially at the beginning.
  • Humor is good for making people relax, but don’t make fun of people as a form of humor, or the entire audience will start to feel unsafe.
  • Research shows that synchronicity bonds people together — when people do something together, such as clap, laugh, raise their hand to a question, it bonds the group. A bonded group feels safe, so ask your audience to do something all together and the group will bond.
  • Be confident. If you are the leader people will follow you.

What do you think? How do you make people feel safe during your presentations? What is your technique for encouraging participation?

If you are interested in improving your presentation and speaking skills then come join me for a 2-day workshop in Chicago.