Turn populations into people

Help readers see a classroom of children

Compare the impact of this statement …’

Are you saving enough for retirement, no matter how young you are?

Turn statistics into metaphors

Turn numbers into things Turn populations into classrooms or auditoriums of people. Image by sean Kong

… to the impact of this one:

“Each day, we lose a classroom of children to gun violence.”

“Information is absorbed in direct proportion to its vividness,” says Diane West, president and co-founder of 2Connect, a presentation-skills training company.

The classroom is more visual and, therefore, more powerful.

Or make it an auditorium.

When Christy Rippel needed to communicate how the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s radiology department had reduced sedation rates in children for imaging exams, the communicator wrote:

Last year, you could have filled an auditorium with the 333 children sedated for imaging exams. One year later, radiology had reduced an auditorium to a classroom — only 34 children were put under for an imaging test.

It’s hard to see 333 people, easier to see an auditorium full of them.

Pro tip: Divide by population.

Even if you’re not comparing populations, you may be able to divide by people for a bring-it-home numerical comparison.

  • Start with your big number. Let’s call it $5.4 billion.
  • Find a population. The U.S. population, maybe, which you can always find at the U.S. Census Bureaus’ Population Clock). That’s 300 million and change.
  • Do the math. $5.4 billion divided by 300 million equals $18.
  • Then think of an item that costs about that much. What costs about $18? A book.
  • ID a topical one of those items. What’s a hot book? (You might hit Amazon’s Hot New Releases for inspiration here.) Magnolia Table tops the list — and just happens to sell for $17.99.
  • Finish that thought. “That’s enough to get every man, woman and child in America a copy of Magnolia Table.”

Write about people, not percentages.

Which is more dangerous? A disease that kills 1,286 out of every 10,000 people it strikes? Or one that kills 12.86% of its victims?

The former, said a group of college students, according to an article in Money magazine.

To make statistics more compelling, make them more emotional. As Paul Slovic, a University of Oregon psychologist, told Money:

“If you tell someone that something will happen to one out of 10 people, they think, ‘Well, who’s the one?’”

Turn populations into people, not percentages.

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