Numbers Can Numb your Audience

By Peter Jeff
The Leadership Mints Guy

Here’s an idea how to enliven stats alive in your speech. Reading time: 2:56

      Numbers can numb your audience unless you put those numbers into perspective. That’s what leaders do.

       imagesImagine trying to help your audience understand how small a chance there is that another person has their DNA. One in a number so large that “if  you were to write out that number with each zero being one inch wide you’d need a strip of paper 37,000 miles long” writes author Rick Warren in his book The Purpose Driven Life. That’s a leader’s power of perspective.

       Imagine if you had to help an audience understand the progression of life on earth over billions of years. Here’s how author and scientist Richard Hawkins puts it all in perspective:

     “Hold out your arm. Imagine that life begins at your shoulder and extends to the top of your finger. Until about half way down your arms there is nothing but bacteria. Multi-cellular life begins at the palm of your hand. Dinosaurs don’t appear until half way along your finger.

        And humans arrived at your finger nail All recorded history– from Babylonia — is just dust in the scraping of a fingernail.”That’s a leader’s power of perspective.

       The most effective leaders help others gain greater understanding of an abstract concept by comparing it to something more concrete and more familiar. For example more people are more familiar with the concept of speed than they are with the abstract notion of a trillion dollars.

     Let’s say we could spend money at the rate of the speed of light. That means you would be spending $186,252 every second. At that rate it would take you just over five seconds to spend one million dollars. Just over 89 minutes to spend one billion dollars. And over 62 days to spend a trillion dollars. The power of perspective is imbedded in that 1000-fold spread between 89 minutes and 89,000 minutes or 62 days. That’s a leader’s  power of a perspective.

        Imagine if you wanted your audience to understand the power of a human brain. Look for a way to put the size and capabilities of a brain into perspective like this:  The honey bee can perform 50 different thinking acts that require memorizing or predicting. The bee memorizes the location of five different flowerbeds and predicts the exact hour that each of those flowers come into bloom.

      BeeAll of that ingenuity with a brain – the size of a grain of sugar – a grain of sugar. Now if a brain the size of a grain of sugar can do all that, imagine the power in a brain the size of a grapefruit – The Human Brain: 100 Thousand times larger. Packing 10 million times more cells. That’s leader’s power of perspective.

        Imagine if you had to deliver a speech on pollution levels and you wanted your audience to understand the concept of parts per million. Think of an object the audience is already familiar with (like a postage stamp) and put it into perspective like this.

        One part per quadrillion is the equivalent to one postage stamp on a letter the size of California and Oregon combined. One part per trillion is one square foot of floor tile on a kitchen floor the size of Indiana. One part per billion is equivalent to one drop of vermouth in 500 barrels of gin. One part per million is equivalent one car in bumper to bumper traffic from Cleveland to San Francisco. That’s a leader’s power of perspective.

        Imagine if you are trying to get the idea of how much salt there is in the ocean. Compare the volume of salt to some other concrete figure like this:  The ocean is filled with tons of salt, enough salt in two cubic miles of ocean to build 56 Great Pyramids, enough to build a wall that stood 18 miles high and one mile thick and stretched 25,000 miles around the world. That’s a leader’s power of perspective.

      So the next time you have to share numbers with an audiences, season them with a leader’s sense of perspective that helps others see those numbers as a treasure of feelings, awe and wonder not merely a measure of cold data and unfeeling NUMBers that may  seek to define the breadth but never the depth of the human spirit.

Today’s ImproveMINT

Keep numbers in perspective to keep your leadership thinking in mint condition.

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