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I Know You Can't Read This, But....

Have you ever been in the audience of a presentation in which the speaker stands before a slide that is populated with 12 point font, a bunch of numbers, a graph and says something like "I know you can't read this, but...?"

This approach is not particularly engaging, is it? And more importantly, the presenter is at risk of being perceived by his audience as lazy, careless and/or aloof - none of which could possibly have been his intention.

Numbers are the backbone of the financial services industry. There are very few conversations or presentations that do not include numbers. While numbers are critical, it is often the meaning behind the numbers that is most important - particularly in a sales presentation.

Recently, when I was coaching someone preparing for a sales presentation, she had included a very detailed slide containing a graph illustrating year-over-year growth. On the bottom of the graph was the color key. Running on the x-axis were years, and the y-axis were assets. Each bar was divided into four components that were differentiated by color. You know the look. Something like this:

I asked her to explain the point she wanted to make with the slide. She told me that the work that she and her team had done resulted in a 36% increase in assets under management. I asked her why she needed a graph to illustrate her point, and when she thought about it, she responded that she probably didn't need it. In fact, the graph with all of its detail was potentially diluting the big, important message that she wanted to convey. We, therefore, decided to trash the graph and replace it with a slide with a very large 36%. This would ensure that the number would not be lost and that the audience, would not be distracted trying to figure out what was on the chart.

We often use graphs when they are not needed. And sometimes when it does make sense to use one, the tendency is to include too much information. Next time you deliver a presentation with graphs, take a moment to determine what your point is. If the graph helps you convey your point, try to simplify it. If, in fact, the graph does not help you convey your point, go ahead and state your point so that you can ensure it won't be lost on the audience.

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