3 speaking skills that will help you communicate data

Doug Neff

Written by

Doug Neff

Have you ever had lunch with a genius? And I don’t mean just someone really smart, but someone who lives and breathes their profession and can explain its mysteries with both passion and skill to anyone, regardless of education. I’ve met many geniuses like this in my life, and those conversations are some of my favorites.

When we sit down and start talking, they come to life, relishing in my questions (even the dumb ones!) and bringing to life a complex subject so far outside my experience that sometimes I didn’t even know it existed. (I’m looking at you, quantum mechanics.) They tell me about DATA as though it is something alive and vital. They explain complex concepts as easily as I would explain basic math to a child.

I’m often amazed to find that these same people are capable of delivering a boring presentation. And yet they are; I’ve seen it! Something happens to them — whether it’s the shift from one audience member to many or the addition of a wireless lavalier microphone to their collar or the presence of slides or something else happening in the non-visible spectrum — they get boring.

Delivering complex data to an audience isn’t always easy. In fact, for many people, especially analytical types, it’s downright hard. In the public speaking workshops we offer at Duarte, we typically focus on increasing a speaker’s comfort, dynamism, and empathy in order to elevate their overall speaking skills. However, when it comes to the introverts and analytical types among us I’ve found that focusing on becoming more dynamic can be a very effective place to start.

To begin with, dynamism is an expansive quality that brings energy and power to the room. But being a more dynamic speaker can also help you capture an audience’s attention and reinforce your message. It’ll help you get through to your audience so that they don’t just leave with a head full of numbers, but rather with a heart bought into the story your numbers told.

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The good news is that you likely already know the secret of dynamism. The secret of dynamic presentation is intentionality, the simple act of making a plan before you take the stage. Think about it, you’re methodical about your research, intentional about your slides … why shouldn’t the same principle apply to your stage presence? As you’re practicing your delivery, the question floating in the back of your mind should always be, “how can I be more purposeful with my movements and voice?” That intention should determine how you move on stage, what you do with your hands, and how you use your voice.

As we dive deeper into each of these techniques be sure to remember that there are no hard and fast rules about how to implement them … it all depends on who you are. Recognize your strengths and your natural speaking style and build upon it! A speaker coach or personalized workshop can be helpful to hone in on leveraging your strengths but to take the first steps, read on.

1. Make your movements matter

When you step out onto a stage, your movements can either be a distraction or an asset. As opposed to wandering or standing stoically behind the podium, move purposefully. If you’re utilizing a timeline, walk across the stage and pause as the slides change, using your physical presence to mirror the markings on the screens.

A dynamic presenter recognizes that their movements also communicate a story — and that those movements should add, not subtract, from the main message.

Pro tip: Take a video yourself giving your presentation then watch it on double speed or on mute. Are your movements taking away from, or adding to your performance?

2. Speak with your hands

Speech consultant Vanessa Van Edwards recently studied famous TED Talks. Contrary to what many of us may have learned, hand motions might not be distractions after all. In her interview with The Washington Post, Van Edwards explains the talks, “that went viral and became wildly popular featured speakers who used their hands the most.” When the brain sees hand gestures in tandem with hearing a voice, she continues, “it’s getting two explanations in one.”

Imagine giving a physics presentation where you must explain the various parts of an atom. Instead of using words alone, your hands can add an entirely new dimension to the presentation.

Your hands are a part of the story and everything the audience is experiencing. In addition to using them to illustrate ideas, you can also move them carefully to underline key points, exaggerating movement before returning them to a neutral position.

A dynamic presenter uses their hands purposefully, adding another layer to their verbal communication.

Pro tip: Plan at least five intentional hand movements you can add to your next presentation.

3. Vocalize deliberately

Think about your favorite audiobook and the passages that kept you on the edge of your seat, the memorable quotes engraved on your mind, the dialogue that brought tears to your eyes. Like the narrator of that story, you have a similar obligation to your audience. Leverage the power of your voice to keep your guests entertained.

If your voice stays the same throughout your presentation, it’s challenging for your audience to know what’s important and what isn’t … and also to stay awake. Direct your audience’s attention to your main points with strategic pauses, variance in pitch, and speed of speech.

A dynamic presenter emphasizes critical points with their voice, “underlining” relevant information with their speech.

Public speaking is hard for anyone, but it can feel especially challenging for the analysts, researchers, and scientists tasked with communicating complex data and information to an audience. However, as it happens, those same people often make the best lunch companions — and they’re the people best suited to be dynamic presenters, they just don’t know it yet. Remember, the secret of dynamic presentation is intentionality. Instead of being afraid, approach your stage presence with the meticulousness you apply to your research.

Before you take the stage, take time to plan your movements and think about where you’re going to stand. Remember that your hands are part of the story, what are you going to make them say? Carefully review your slides and mentally note (or better yet, actually note) where to vocalize deliberately. Finally, remember it’s okay to get passionate! Part of being dynamic is letting your personality shine through.

Pro tip: Before taking the stage, write out what inspires you about the content and taps into your passions.

Tell your story right — with all the same passion you bring to the work itself — and the audience will walk away with greater understanding.