1 August 2015

Two Super Easy Ways To Make Numbers Entertaining

This post is about a problem I see with many presentations and a solution to fix it.

Presentations include too much data. To be more precise, presenters often include numbers and statistics without making them digestible for their audience. How often have you sat looking at slide after slide…after slide…and the only thing you’ve seen were numbers?

The problem, though, is not the numbers themselves. The problem is that numbers are not presented in a way that an audience can relate. 

Numbers are not presented in a way that an audience can relate. [Tweet this]

In order for your audience to understand your data, you need to give them some context. How do you do that? There are two ways.
  • Put your data in perspective 
  • Tell a story behind your data
(1) Put your data in perspective
I’ve recently stumbled upon a great Forbes article by Carmine Gallo where he explains this technique in detail. I’m going to recap the main points for you. 

He wrote that statistics are hard to remember for two main reasons:
  • They are abstract 
  • There is often no context around the numbers 
By putting data in perspective, you’ll “turn abstractions into memorable images.” 

Let me give you two examples:
  • This one is a personal experience of Carmine. He was meeting with an executive and talked about how to communicate his company’s environmental record, given that they had planted more than two million trees in the past. Instead of just showing this big number, they decided to say, “Two million trees. To put it in perspective, that’s the equivalent of 90 Central Parks.” Two million trees means nothing to many people. But 90 Central Parks is loads of trees. It means a lot! 
  • Apple rarely show a statistic without putting it into perspective. For example, when vice president Phil Schiller introduced the new MacBook Pro, instead of saying it was 0.71 inches thick, he said, “It’s thinner than my finger.” 
The point is that you shouldn't let your audience figure out what your numbers mean. Give them some context. Context will make any number relatable. 

Don't let your audience figure out what your numbers mean. Give them some context.[Tweet this]

(2) Tell a story behind your data
Another way to make your audience understand your data is to tell a story behind it. Surprisingly, I haven’t learnt this presentation technique from a communication specialist, but rather, wait for it…a rock star.
In 2013, U2’s Bono delivered a fantastic TED talk: The Good News On Poverty. In this must-watch presentation, Bono always followed statistics with a story that brought the data to life. 

Here’s an example:

“Since the year 2000, since the turn of the millennium, there are eight million more AIDS patients getting life-saving antiretroviral drugs. Malaria: There are eight countries in sub-Saharan Africa that have their death rates cut by 75 percent. For kids under five, child mortality, kids under five, it’s down by 2.65 million a year. That’s a rate of 7,256 children’s lives saved each day. Wow.”

Let’s be honest, how many details do you remember about what you’ve just read? The mistake most presenters make is they stop at the statistics. Unless you are a rock star presenter, in which case you would say something along those lines:

 “Seven thousand kids a day. Here’s two of them. This is Michael and Benedicta, and they’re alive thanks in large part to Dr. Patricia Asamoah — she’s amazing — and the Global Fund, which all of you financially support, whether you know it or not.”       

Bono showed this slide as he told the story. 
That’s how you bring data to life. As Garr Reynolds recently tweeted: 
If you want your audience to grasp and enjoy your numbers, either put them in perspective, or follow them with a story, or do both.   

IMAGE: Bono at TED 2013 via Jim Fruchterman - Flickr