Shocking statistics wake people up and grab people’s attention in a way that few other speaking tools do. Shocking statistics make people think. And sometimes, when used properly, they make people feel. Use shocking statistics for effect and deliver them with impact.
Why are statistics so effective? Because people believe in them. Statistics are used in everyday life to such a degree — by the news media, politicians, educators, you name it — that we have come to trust in the use of statistics to explain almost anything.
Did you know that 95% of Americans never question statistics at all? It’s true! … Well, actually, it isn’t true. I made it up. But you believed it for a second there, didn’t you? Because I presented it as a statistic. See the way that works?
Avoid overdosing your audience
A word of caution, however: Use statistics sparingly, especially in your introduction. You can get away with one to three statistics in your intro if they are relevatory and moving, but no more. If you overuse this technique, you will end up boring or confusing your audience becauseit is hard to track too many statistics without seeing them written down. People will tune you out quickly. (And no, that doesn’t mean you can put a bunch of statistics up on a Power Point slide in order to use more than three. It means don’t use more than three. Period.)
Also, when possible, give a source for your statistics to add credibility and weight of your statement. If your statistic is from a source known for its accuracy and honesty (especially if it is close to the heart of your listeners), you add credibility to yourself in the process of quoting them.
This can be a double-edged sword, of course. Quoting a source that your audience may not trust (i.e. citing a Fox News statistic at the Democratic National Convention) might not be the best choice for you to make your point. Make sure your statistics are credible and accurate … and have the proof to back yourself up if challenged.
Another technique to employ with statistics is a rapid fire delivery, whether in your introduction or in your speech. Very quickly state two or three critical statistics. Boom, boom, boom. Then pause for effect, make eye contact, and slowly restate the most important or most shocking statistic.
For example :
Look at your audience… pause… make eye contact… then begin: “… at [Organization Name], 80% of female associates never become managers. 85% never make more than $9.50 per hour. And 90% of their male counterparts make more money than they do for doing the same job…. [pause]… 90% of male employees make more money than female employees at [Organization Name] – for doing the same job – ninety … percent. [big pause] That’s what this litigation is all about.”
This technique can be used in multiple settings, in or out of court. Let me give you one such scenario:
Picture yourself as a speaker at a panel discussion. But instead of sitting behind the panel table and kicking off your talk with your name, rank and serial number (meaning your name, title and credentials), you stand up, walk around the table, look your audience members in the eye and rattle off two to three statistics about how frequently professionals fail their clients/customers by doing x, y and z and how much the failure is costing.
Now that would grab your audience’s attention! Moreover, it would set you apart from the rest of the speakers on your panel. (Warning: They might get jealous. You can send them a copy of my book or DVD if they do.)
Data points that get things rolling
Another example: Picture yourself having to do the annual briefing to your client’s employees on the subject of sexual harassment. You decide to start off as follows:
“100% of women who have been sexually harassed at work say the harasser was a man. The number of sexual harassment complaints filed by men has more than tripled. And 62% of sexual harassment targets take no action… 62% of sexual harassment targets take no action….
“Now, some people may try to laugh this off and think, ‘Hey, I have a 62% chance of not getting in trouble if I behave like a jerk.’ But flip the coin around… there is about a 40% chance that a victim of sexual harassment will file a complaint. And that means that 40% of the time…..
“So we’re going to take a little bit of time today to look at what sexual harassment is and isn’t, where the grey areas get people in trouble, and what to do if you end up a target.”
In this example, instead of starting off by introducing yourself and mentioning the state-mandated requirement for this always-unwanted training (both of which will make your client’s employee’s eyes glaze over), you chose to grab their attention and give them a tangible, real reason to listen to you.
Once you’ve done that, you’re off and running.