The odds are probably a million to one that your audience will understand a large number that you throw out. Improve those odds with these techniques:
- Break it down. If a number is too large for the audience to grasp, divide it into chunks they can comprehend.
For example, UNICEF notes that 7.6 million children die before their fifth birthday every year because of causes such as unclean drinking water and treatable diseases. But it also states the problem this way: Every day 21,000 children die from preventable causes. It uses that lower number in the logo for its Believe in Zero campaign: 21,000.
- Show it it. Describe the number in terms of something the audience already understands.
Telling people that a can of soda has 40 grams of sugar doesn’t mean much. Show them the 10 teaspoons of sugar that equals and you will cement the image in their memory.
- Describe the impact. Define what that number means to everyday life.
When my friend Dave said he had used a 1,200-bit modem, I knew that number meant it was slow. When he said that he could take a shower while it transmitted his newspaper column, I understood just how slow it was.
NPR’s Robert Smith recently came up with a great way to illustrate the widening income gap between wealthy and poor Americans over the radio. Just before Halloween he poured candy corn into dishes to make the point with sound. You can listen to his example here.
Share a good example for how to describe a number, in the comments section below.