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How to Use Evidence to Defeat Doubt

Several years ago, I attended a dinner presentation at an association meeting.

Two people were presenting together. Their slides were not fancy. There were audio issues early in the presentation that had to be resolved. They spoke out of turn a few times. And, they didn’t leave enough time for questions.

Yet, it was compelling.

The content of the presentation was rock solid because of their fabulous evidence. They used tons of industry examples. They cited client testimonials. They told stories that made powerful points.

It made the delivery issues an afterthought.

The popular adage, “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it,” is a lie. An old study from Albert Mehrabian at UCLA is often misinterpreted by many in our industry who believe that how you deliver a message is vastly superior to the content. It’s simply not true, as I’ve spoken about in detail previously.

How you deliver your message is, of course, important. We focus extensively on delivery in our High Impact Presentations courses, but we spend even more time in that course (and all our other work) on the content of our communications and presentations.

A central framework for making your case in any context is your ability to use evidence. We’re highlighting evidence in the Carnegie Coach podcast this week and here are the seven principles we teach that will help you use evidence to DEFEAT doubt.

1. D = Demonstrations

If you’ve ever been captivated by a late night infomercial or found yourself purchasing something you just saw demonstrated at a store or conference, you already know the power of using demonstrations.

You can speak all day long about how great your idea, software, or service is, but it pales in comparison to showing people exactly how something works. When you do, they can picture how they could use it, fund it, or market it to their customers. If practical, involve your audience in the demonstration too.

2. E = Examples

Telling stories about who has benefitting from your idea, product, or service is one of the best ways to use examples, another form of evidence.

The key with storytelling is to keep the example focused on a single incident, following by a clear action and benefit. We teach a process called the Magic Formula (funny name, but powerful concept) to do this effectively. This 8-minute audio podcast will teach you exactly how to do it.

3. F = Facts

In order for something to be a useful fact, it should be both verifiable and indisputable. Making a claim that your team or company is “the best in the industry” is rarely verifiable and always disputed by the competition.

Instead, highlight facts that are easy to verify and can’t be argued. When speaking about our own organization, we often highlight that Dale Carnegie has been in business since 1912. Without saying a word about credibility and sustainability, that fact communicates all of that, while being easy for others to verify.

4. E = Exhibits

My friend Sandie Morgan is the director of the Global Center for Women and Justice at Vanguard University. I serve on her board and and we just interviewed a representative from the United Nations about what they are doing to raise awareness on human trafficking issues around the world.

The United Nations in engaged with a project called the GIFT (Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking) box in order to teach people about this issue. These physical boxes travel all over the world and serve as walk-in exhibits, personalized for each community. The connections that come from attendees at these events often build partnerships that raise awareness throughout the local area.

It’s a fantastic example of using an exhibit to get an important message across. An exhibit is a static display that helps you make your case to the world.

5. A = Analogies

If you’re about to make the case for something that’s hard to understand, employ an analogy. It connects what you are trying to explain with something the audience already knows, without you having to point out that they know less about something than you do (rarely a good idea).

Start with something that most everyone understands and use it to explain the complex part. Years ago, one of our clients at ExxonMobil did this beautifully. I had asked how different grades of gasoline were made and he compared it to eating chips and salsa at a Mexican restaurant.

“If you have hot sauce and mild sauce on the table, how do you make medium?” he asked. Mixing them together was the obvious answer. “That’s how we make the mid grade gasoline,” he replied. “We make only a high and low grade at the refinery, and mix them together to get the mid grade.”

6. T = Testimonials

When you are making a case for something, one of the questions always lurking in the back of the mind of the other party (whether they verbalize it or not) is this one:

Who says so other than just you?

Of course you’re going to speak well about the case you are making, since you’re the one making it. You add credibility to your argument when you bring in a testimonial from another party. But who’s the person to mention?

Here are the two rules for who to get a testimonial from:

  1. Someone who has experience with your product or service.

  2. Someone who is seen by your audience as credible.

The second rule is often missed. Just because somoene said something nice about your idea, service, or organization doesn’t mean your audience will be impressed. Highlighting testimonials that the audience sees as credible is key.

7. S = Statistics

Statistics follow the same rules as facts, but normally include numbers and trends. There’s an old adage about statistics you should know about too:

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.

So many people and organizations skew numbers to help support their case, that you must be ever vigilant if you plan to use statistics successfully. Here are three guidelines:

  1. Ensure they are easily understood

  2. Reference a credible source (in the audience’s eyes) where the numbers come from

  3. Provide an easy way for the audience to verify the source

A service provider proposing to do work on our home recently told me that, “we have only five-star ratings on Yelp.” Easily understood? Check. Credible source? Check. Able to verify? I went on Yelp right after the conversation. It all checked out and they got the work and did a great job.

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