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# How to present numbers more effectively

PRESENT NUMBERS MORE EFFECTIVELY

My family and I just returned from a fantastic vacation on a cruise ship. On our last day we attended a Q&A session with the captain and a few of his officers. People were very interested in the details of the ship. The captain quoted a few numbers:

• Weight: 85,000 tons
• Installed Power: 48,000 HP
• Length: 264 meters
• Beam: 32 meters
Our 85,000 ton cruise ship

While the figures are certainly impressive I realized that they do no mean much. My boys asked the obvious question: “How much is that?” The numbers are just too difficult to understand. Indeed: What does 85,000 tons really mean? (Have you ever lifted something that heavy?) Plain digits rarely resonate with people – they do not communicate a story and they are often hard to understand. And this can be problematic in business when we present figures. We typically present them to tell a story and to instill action but the sheer nakedness of the digits hides the true meaning.  That’s what happened during the presentation of the cruise captain.

CONTEXT AND MEANING

A better approach is to present the numbers and put them into context with something we are all familiar with. It helps people understand. This is especially helpful for larger numbers like the examples above. Let’s take a look:

• 85,000 tons is about as heavy as the combined weight of 56,667 BMW 5 series sedans.
• 48,000 horsepowers is the equivalent of 240 BMW 525d limousines pulling in unison
• 264 meters is as long as 2.6 regular soccer fields
• 32 meters is about half as wide as a soccer field

Here we go: 2.6 soccer fields long, with a huge stack of cars on top and a few hundred Beamers pulling the thing. Now that puts this into perspective and it is actually quite impressive. My kids understand that and they had a serious look of surprise on their faces.

STEVE JOBS – THE MASTER

One person who has perfected the technique of explaining and making numbers shine is Steve Jobs. He has delivered some classic explanations in recent history:

•  “1000 songs in your pocket.” ….Jobs is explaining what a 5GB iPod is able to do
• “Our market share is greater than BMW or Mercedes in the car industry.” ….Jobs was critized about the low market share number of 5% in the computer industry back in 2003