How to Liven Up Numbers – Stat!

By Heather Baldwin

No doubt you’ve heard the use of statistics can make a presentation more compelling and your message more credible. But unless you’re presenting to a roomful of statisticians, it’s easy for those numbers to become boring or meaningless. For example, you might think it’s absolutely amazing that your whirly-gig turns 4,000 revolutions a minute. But toss out that number by itself and you’re likely to get some blank stares. So how can you make that number compelling? Joseph Sommerville, principal of Houston-based Peak Communication Performance, offers these suggestions for using statistics in your sales presentation.

Use visuals. Many people process numbers much better visually than they do verbally. When possible, use graphs, charts and illustrations to depict your statistics and their relevance.

Use analogies. If you can liken a statistic to something familiar to the audience, they’ll be able to grasp its meaning more quickly. For example, Sommerville says that when CD-ROMs first arrived people had trouble grasping the amount of information they could hold. “One way to explain it would be to say that a CD-ROM could hold approximately 450 floppy discs,” he says. “For the computer illiterate, a better explanation would be to say that a CD-ROM could hold 200,000 pages of text. Analogies become even more important as the number of zeros increases.”

Relate to the familiar. If an analogy won’t work, try putting your statistics within a frame of reference the audience understands. For example, if you are talking to an audience in Houston and trying to describe how long it took pioneers to travel via horse and wagon, says Sommerville, you might say the pioneers could only travel about 15 miles in a day. Then you could put that distance in context by explaining that a trip to a suburb 45 miles away that now takes less than an hour would have taken the pioneers three days.

Economize the numbers. Telling your audience there are 278,058,995 people living in the United States won’t sink in and won’t help drive home your point. “Saying the population is 278 million will be more memorable and make your point more succinct,” says Sommerville. “Unless there is an overwhelming need for precision, round off your statistics.”

For more information, visit