Find the Perfect Mix of Data and Narrative

By Nancy Duarte 

Most presentations lie somewhere on the continuum between a report and a story. A report is data-rich, exhaustive, and informative—but not very engaging. Stories help a speaker connect with an audience, but listeners often want facts and information, too. Great presenters layer story and information like a cake, and understand that different types of talks require differing ingredients.  

Research Findings

If your goal is to communicate information from a written report, send the full document to the audience in advance, and limit the presentation to key takeaways. Don’t do a long slide show that repeats all your findings. Anyone who’s really interested can read the report; everyone else will appreciate brevity.  

Financial Presentation

Financial audiences love data, and they’ll want the details. Satisfy their analytical appetite with facts, but add a thread of narrative to appeal to their emotional side. Then present the key takeaways visually, to help them find meaning in the numbers.  

Product Launch

Instead of covering only specs and features, focus on the value your product brings to the world. Tell stories that show how real people will use it and why it will change their lives.  

VC Pitch

For 30 minutes with a VC, prepare a crisp, well-structured story arc that conveys your idea compellingly in 10 minutes or less; then let Q&A drive the rest of the meeting. Anticipate questions and rehearse clear and concise answers.  

Keynote Address

Formal talks at big events are high-stakes, high-impact opportunities to take your listeners on a transformative journey. Use a clear story framework and aim to engage them emotionally.  

10 Ways to Ruin a Presentation

As hard as it may be to give a great talk, it’s really easy to blow it. Here are some common mistakes that TED advises its speakers to avoid.

1. Take a really long time to explain what your talk is about. 

2. Speak slowly and dramatically. Why talk when you can orate? 

3. Make sure you subtly let everyone know how important you are. 

4. Refer to your book repeatedly. Even better, quote yourself from it. 

5. Cram your slides with numerous text bullet points and multiple fonts. 

6. Use lots of unexplained technical jargon to make yourself sound smart. 

7. Speak at great length about the history of your organization and its glorious achievements. 

8. Don’t bother rehearsing to check how long your talk is running. 

9. Sound as if you’re reciting your talk from memory. 

10. Never, ever make eye contact with anyone in the audience.

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