Intrigue first, introduce second
Three creative ways to begin your next (data) presentation
Hi, my name is Evelina Judeikytė. I’m a data storyteller and designer and I live in Paris, France. It’s a real honour to be invited to speak at your conference. Today, we’ll talk about what makes a good chart.
Yawn. 🥱 Did this introduction put you to sleep? I don’t blame you. This is the most basic (not to say, boring) opening I could come up with for a conference talk. Unfortunately, I hear similar introductions rather often, and I’m sure you do too. Speakers begin by introducing themselves before they mention anything of interest for the audience. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the audience doesn’t care that much about you, your job or your life. They care about what you can teach them. They want to learn and to be inspired.
So let’s look at three creative ways to open your next presentation that won’t make your audience yawn.
People love stories. I know that. You know that. Everyone knows that. So why not use one as an opening? It’s an easy-to-follow yet compelling means to invite your listeners into your world and to start making a point. At the beginning of his TED talk called The best stats you’ve ever seen, Hans Rosling shares his teaching experience. Here is an excerpt:
About 10 years ago, I took on the task to teach global development to Swedish undergraduate students. That was after having spent about 20 years, together with African institutions, studying hunger in Africa. So I was sort of expected to know a little about the world. And I started, in our medical university, Karolinska Institute, an undergraduate course called Global Health. But when you get that opportunity, you get a little nervous. I thought, these students coming to us actually have the highest grade you can get in the Swedish college system, so I thought, maybe they know everything I'm going to teach them about. <…>
How do you feel? Do you want to learn more? To find out what the end of the story is and why it’s important? I bet you do. I strongly recommend watching the whole talk to get all the answers! Hint: Hans Rosling realised that most people knew little about the world, and made it his mission to change that.
If you want another great example, watch how Shonda Rhimes opened her (also super famous) TED talk on saying yes to everything for one year.
We may love visuals almost as much as we love stories. Or perhaps we just need them to make sense of the world. Either way, introducing a visual aid right off the bat can be another powerful opening for a talk. Show a visual, pause, and then explain it. Choose a compelling chart or image that will make the audience curious to learn more. At the onset of her TED talk How we can find ourselves in data, Giorgia Lupi shows this visual and says:
This is what my last week looked like.
She then moves on to explaining the chart and what she does, drawing a beautiful parallel between herself, data, and data humanism that she advocates for. So next time you’re presenting, can a visual help you introduce the topic elegantly?
Are you presenting a product? A solution to a problem? A design? Can you bring it with you on stage? My favourite example of using a prop in a talk is Bill Gates’ presentation on malaria and education. After describing the problem of funding, he literally released mosquitos into the audience and said:
Malaria is of course transmitted by mosquitos. I brought some here <…> we’ll let those roam around a little bit.
The listeners were thrilled (and perhaps just a little scared?!). Bill Gates certainly grabbed and held their attention for the remainder of his stage time. Can you think of something similar? It doesn’t have to be insects; any physical object can do, really. When we were practicing data presentations with employees at Dior last month, one group brought the physical perfume bottle as a prop, and it worked great.
I’m convinced that a successful opening can make or break a presentation. But just to be clear, you can introduce yourself. I’m not saying you should never mention who you are or that you’re excited to be on stage. All I’m saying is that it shouldn’t be the very first thing you utter. Take a look at how I did it during my DataFest talk in 2020: I asked the audience a rhetorical question first, and introduced myself second.
Don’t be afraid to get creative with your next opening, as long as it supports your key message.
As always, thanks so much for reading The Plot.
See you next week!
Nightingale issue #2. Have you ordered your print version yet? I hear there are only a few copies of this edition left, and I can assure you that its content is rich and the design stunning.
Elevate dataviz community. The membership price dropped significantly this year, which could be a great time for you to join this creative space.
Can you X-ray dataviz? A new podcast episode by Alli Torban on how to organise your dataviz inspirations.
Did you know that I run my own data design studio called Parabole? 📡 If you like The Plot and my approach to data storytelling, do reach out for help with design projects, trainings or consulting services. Just shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get things going! See you soon :)