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lies damned lies and statistics, business presentations

Lies, damned lies and statistics

Political leaders went to war this week.

Baffling us with figures, numbers and costs.

Or lies, damned lies and statistics.

That’s how it felt.

We all have to decide just who we believe before voting on December the 12th.

But is it wise to quote figures in business?

Do they boost our presentation skills?

Misleading figures

Mark twain, misleading figures, business presentations

You may recognise this famous quote:

“There are three kinds of lies:


“Damned lies.

“And statistics.”

It was wrongly attributed to British PM Benjamin Disraeli by American writer Mark Twain.

Ironic, as he was pointing out how misleading figures can be.

So let’s look at three case studies from the election campaign last week.

1) The cost to Scotland

Nicola sturgeon, the cost to scotland, business presentations

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon makes this claim about Brexit:

“Economic analysis says it will cost every person in Scotland £1,600.”

But the figure comes from a Scottish Government assessment before the referendum.

Saying output in Scotland would be hit to the tune of £9 billion a year.

And if you divide that by Scotland’s population, you get £1,600 a person.

But that’s the change in Gross Domestic Product, which indicates the size of the economy.

Rather than what we earn.

Two different things.

So that statistic needs to be dismissed.

2) Labour’s spending plans

The Tories say Labour’s spending plans will cost £1.2 trillion.

Chancellor Sajid Javid claimed the UK economy would be on

the brink of bankruptcy“.

Hang on though.

What’s a trillion?

It’s a thousand billion.

Or a million million pounds.

And Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell calls the claim

“fake news”,

as the figures were largely based on Labour’s 2017 manifesto.

Rather than its 2019 election manifesto.

And there are assumptions about creating new departments.

So that claim loses credibility.

And the statistic also fails.

3) The invisible statistic

So what figure do the Conservatives put on their spending plans?

Perhaps Business Minister Kwasi Kwarteng could tell us.

As he appeared on Sophy Ridge on Sunday on the Sky News Channel.

He called Labour’s spending plans

reckless and unaffordable”.

But when pressed to put a figure on his party’s plans , he refused to do so, saying:

“I’m not going to bandy around figures.”

So impossible to analyse that one, without a figure being revealed.

So that spending plan fails to get off the ground with an invisible statistic.

Business presentations

Business presentations, bill mcfarlan, pink elephant

The way they use figures, our political leaders lack credibility.

Business presentations and media interviews need to be much clearer.


  1.  So we understand what they mean;
  2.  So we believe them.

We advocate the careful use of accurate figures in the presentation skills courses and media training courses run at our Glasgow studios.

And in 25 countries across the world.

Employed sparingly.

Explained simply.

With complete honesty.

It’s vital that we build trust in business if people are to buy what we’re selling.

Little wonder so many feel disillusioned with politicians when their arguments lack credibility.

Because of lies.

Damned lies.

And statistics.


Bill McFarlan is co-Founder and Executive Chairman at Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.

You can read his full profile here.


Image of Kwasi Kwarteng courtesy of Sky News.
Photos by TED Conference / CC BY-NC-ND / World Economic Forum / CC BY-NC-SA on

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