September 25, 2017

Match game

How can you help people see 6,000?

When 6,000 power poles went down in New Orleans during a series of ice storms, Entergy Senior Communications Specialist David Lewis needed a way to make that number tangible in an executive speech.

So he bought 6,000 wooden kitchen matchsticks and put them in a clear plastic container. Then he had the speaker display the matches when making his point about the broken poles.

Match game

Let me see Lewis’ jar of matches is worth 6,000 words. Image by Jeff Turner

One thing I really like about Lewis’ approach is that he synced his analogy with his subject.

The best metaphors “match” the topic. Matches conceptually go with power outages, and matchsticks are the shape of power poles.

Need to illustrate a big number? Find a way to help audience members visualize it. Big numbers don’t mean anything without a comparison.

  • Take the ‘Numb’ Out of Numbers

    Make statistics understandable and interesting

    If your readers are like most, they have, on average, below basic numeracy, or numerical literacy, according a massive international literacy study.

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    “Numbers without context, especially large ones with many zeros trailing behind, are about as intelligible as vowels without consonants,” writes Daniel Okrent, former New York Times ombudsman.

    Indeed, poorly handled, statistics can make your readers’ eyes glaze over.

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