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Benchmarks In Presentations: Is This Good, Bad or Indifferent?

It's essential that you provide benchmarks in presentations when you are talking about the size, age, value or other attributes of a subject.
I have a friend who owns a temporary placement agency. In conversation, she told me she had x-number of temps placed with clients that day, and I had to ask her whether this number was good, bad or indifferent. That's because I know nothing about her business, so I have no benchmark.
A client told me recently that she had had a 70% response to a companywide survey she had conducted. Having spoken with other clients who were getting 30-40% response to similar surveys, I was able to congratulate her on her success. Until that point, she had been disappointed with her own response because she didn't how how poorly other companies had fared --- in other words, she had no benchmark.
So, how do you provide benchmarks in presentations? There are a number of techniques, of course, but the best way I've found is to compare the unknown to something already familiar to the audience. Here are some examples:
- The company's net profit for this quarter was $1.2 million --- that's twice as much as we made for the whole of last year. (Now the audience knows this is good!)
- The president's office is 1500 square feet --- my whole apartment would fit inside it! (Even though the listener may not be familiar with your apartment, any office that could accommodate a whole apartment is one b-i-g office, so this works as a benchmark.)
- The new product was on the market in three months, from concept to launch. Previous product launches have always taken a year. (Without the second statement, there's no benchmark so the first statement has little meaning.)
Do you see how this works? Let the audience form a mental picture of what they do know, so that they can understand the new information.
Of course, you must make sure you use a benchmark the audience will understand. For example, a common way of expressing size or length in North America is to say a thing is the size of three football fields. This would not work as well in a country not familiar with football fields.
Remember, statistics are meaningless if people don't understand them. Providing benchmarks in presentations will help ensure your audience knows whether your facts are good, bad or indifferent.
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