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!”   Continue reading

$75 billion wasted on training… but what’s in a number?

“How many Poppa Johns high is this mountain?”

Little Si

We were halfway up Little Si, just outside Seattle, when my daughter broke the silence of our trek with that very profound question. She could have simply asked how high the mountain is, but 1,550 feet high doesn’t mean that much to an 8-year-old. Frame it in terms of how many times her (very tall) grandfather would need to be stacked on top of himself, and it suddenly made a lot more sense to her.

In case you’re wondering, we would have had to stack Poppa John on top of himself 246 times to reach the top of Little Si.

It was a reminder that numbers aren’t very impactful until they’re anchored in something more familiar to us. Keep this in mind the next time you need to deliver a presentation with data or metrics.

Here’s a specific example: According to a 2010 McKinsey study, $100 billion was spent worldwide on training efforts and only 25% of that money led to measured outcomes. $75 billion wasted! That sounds like a big number… but really how big is that wasted expenditure? Instead of wasting $75 billion on training, corporations could have:

  • Paid for a year’s worth of the U.S. government’s budget for foreign aid and still have had enough left over to purchase every last crown jewel in the Tower of London.
  • Or it could have bought 10,000 tons of marijuana (you know, in order to get it out of the hands of the drug dealers and off the streets).
  • Another way to look at it is that $75 billion is roughly the GDP of Cuba.
  • Or it could have bought 10 billion quarter pounder value meals at McDonald’s (that’s 10 billion Royale with Cheese meals for my friends on the metric system)

The point here is that for your audience to care about your numbers, they need to be able to relate to those numbers.

Out of curiosity, how would the $75 billion figure be more relatable to you? Let’s hear it in the comment section.

Know someone who could benefit by remembering to make their numbers more meaningful to their audience? Pass this post along!