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Numbers need to be put into perspective, or they’re just sounds

numbers

At last weekend’s end-of-year celebration for my organization, a colleague got up and said a few words about one of his direct reports. As he was bestowing accolades upon her, he shared some of her accomplishments.

After he shared one data point that sounded like it could be eye popping, he wanted to emphasize his point and said: “To put that number into perspective, that is the equivalent of filling four Olympic-sized swimming pools!”  If you want your audience to be able to believe your data, numbers or statistics are as important as you believe they are, they need to have context.

Which sounds more impactful?

A. There are 28.5 million Americans without health insurance today. That’s a lot of people.

OR

B. There are 28.5 million Americans without health insurance today. That is the equivalent of no health insurance for every man, woman and child in New York City… three and a half times over! Now that’s a lot of people.

Which sounds more impactful?

A. Despite the tuition that our school charges, we still have a $1 million shortfall each year.

OR

B. Despite the tuition that our school charges, we still have a $1 million shortfall each year. That’s the equivalent of the salaries of 20 of our teachers.

Which sounds more impactful?

A. The Buffalo Bills haven’t made the playoffs in 17 years.

OR

B. My nephew was born in 2001. He doesn’t know a world without the Internet, cell phones, Facebook, Snapchat, iPhones, an African-American president, Eminem, SARS outbreaks, reality television starring Ozzy Osbourne… and he also doesn’t know a world in which the Buffalo Bills have ever played a playoff game.

I could go on, but hopefully you get the point.

I’m curious, what’s been the most creative way you’ve ever put numbers in context (or perhaps the most creative way you’ve heard numbers being put in context)?

 

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