Dumping Data

by R. L. Howser on October 6, 2012 · 11 comments

I sat through yet another data dump the other day; twenty mind-numbing minutes of facts, figures and charts. At the end of the presentation, I not only remembered no details of any importance, but I had no clue what I was supposed to learn from it

And yet, the speaker seemed to be quite pleased with himself. He had successfully covered his material with no major errors. He even commented that he was happy to see that no one had any questions.

Neither I, nor I suspect anyone else there, had any questions because we had no idea what his point was.

I’m tempted to say he had failed as a speaker, except that I have a hunch he succeeded completely at his true goal, which was to avoid saying anything at all for which he could be held accountable.

That seems to be the goal of a lot of speakers.

Of course, some speakers simply have nothing to say. They don’t know enough to take a stand. They were told to present the data, so they present the data for their betters to interpret, casting the bones before the elders.

More often though, I think they present the data because that is generally uncontroversial. Opinions, recommendations and conclusions can sometimes ruffle a few feathers, so they err on the side of caution; presenting the known, the established, the unquestionable.

By simply dumping all of the data on the audience, they avoid the responsibility of making decisions; decisions about what is relevant, decisions about what is significant and decisions about what it all means.

They avoid the only good reason to listen to them at all.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dave November 10, 2012 at 6:32 pm

I completely agree with this. Most often times, the presenters come across as machines just there to spit out the facts they were programmed to by their superiors. They’re bored, the audience is bored and they add no extra input or comments that let those in attendance know they are actual human beings. The entertaining side comments or some type of extra information or even a little controversy is what can make or break a presentation. Most speakers truly have nothing at all to say because they don’t take risks. Excellent article.

2 Stephanie November 14, 2012 at 2:57 pm

I completely agree with you. I feel as if though people are afraid to speak their minds and rustle some feathers. They are afraid of disapproval. When they proceed with caution, their speeches are easily forgotten. They should not be happy with finishing the speech without errors, but evoking questions from their audience.
I especially liked your last line “They avoid the only good reason to listen to them at all.” It beautifully sums up the article. Part of being human is having an opinion that is different from everyone else. Why not share it?

3 Carinne November 14, 2012 at 6:21 pm

I think you make many great points in this article. Many times a presenter comes across dry, boring, or even disconnected from the audience. More often than just avoiding controversy or taking a stand, presenters who have this problem really don’t have a passion about what they are speaking about. Its not important to them or from their heart, therefore they have a hard time connecting with the audience and leaving them wanting more. This is a huge part of being a good speaker. Its way more than following your outline word for word and making sure your don’t say the word um. The points shared should be meaningful and insightful. Even if you are giving statistic to support your stand, less is more and it doesn’t need to be a “data dump.”

4 Nai November 14, 2012 at 7:25 pm

I completely agree with you!! But in this case it’s my philosophy professor!! The class is legit 3 hours and all I hear is blah blah blah blah. His presentations are horrible … his speeches are even worse!! The class never pays attention but of course there’s that group of students who debate over everything and most importantly nothing! I believe as a philosophy professor your public speaking is very important! You have to make the topic interesting for the students… make it simply enough for them to understand and etc. ON top of everything he expects us to write a 20 page paper which sucks because I never learn anything! I always zone out… I love this article you really broke everything down…and I completely understand where you’re coming from.

5 Umme November 14, 2012 at 10:12 pm

I think you are right. I have personally experienced many of those speeches, either by prominent and notable individuals, professors or my classmates. These individuals just ramble on and on for a seemingly endless time and when they are finally done, I feel completely exhausted and clueless of what their intended message was. I am not sure if the ambiguity of their message was intentional due to lack of a stand on an issue or just a poor presentation!! Either way, these particular speeches greatly irritate me…..

6 R. L. Howser November 16, 2012 at 9:33 am

I seem to have touched a nerve with this post, but I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one noticing.

7 Dennis c/o Japan November 20, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Indeed, it is gratifying to know that Mr. Howser is taking on the task to remedy this situation. I have witnessed it for over four decades as a corporate trainer in Japan. I recommend having a closer look at the content on Mr. Howser’s web page because it demonstrates how he leads the prospective presentation perfecter by the hand, step by step, to achieving a result for the betterment of all concerned. I believe the world and Japan in particular, needs more willing professionals like Mr. Howser and the service he offers.

8 Conor Neill December 18, 2012 at 9:01 am

The goal of saying nothing for which you could be held accountable… You nailed it. Poor communication is guaranteed when the speaker has not committed them self to stand for something. All things to all people is really nothing to nobody. ;-)

9 R. L. Howser December 19, 2012 at 10:12 pm

“All things to all people is really nothing to nobody.”

Well said, Conor.

10 Greg Gazin February 7, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Excellent post! What I share in my presentation is: Don’t bore me with facts and figures. Tell me a story, have it relate to the numbers. That I’ll remember!

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