How to Make Numbers Meaningful to Your Team

Posted by Kristin Arnold on January 25, 2022

I’m a HUGE fan of the Heath Brothers’ work, so I jumped on Chip Heath and Karla Starr’s latest book, Making Numbers Count: The Art and Science of Communicating Numbers.  

If you ever have to communicate the story behind the numbers on paper, a spreadsheet, or a PowerPoint slide, you need to read this book.  Why? Because it is more than the telling of the number or statistic.  The number(s) is important, but it’s the understanding of the situation, the emotion it generates, and the feeling you are left with that really matters.

As a professional speaker and panel moderator,  I have instinctively known this and mentioned the importance of making numbers count, but this book shows you HOW to do that.

I love the fact that there are oodles of before/after comparative examples that are highlighted in green-colored boxes throughout the book.  The intent is that you read the book, then flip through it, using those boxes as a springboard to your own creativity.

So what kind of tips are we talking about?

  • Use small whole numbers. The easiest thing to process is whole numbers under 10, preferably 1 to 5.
  • Favor user-friendly numbers.  If you have to present bigger numbers, round it out so it’s easier to mentally process the information.
  • Unless the audience deals in decimals all the time, convert the numbers to a whole number.
  • Fractions force people to do the math.  So do percentiles.  Instead, try the “village of 100” or “basket of 100” and convert those percentages into whole numbers.
  • Focus on the one:  Use something simple with a well-understood part of the overall scene: 1 employee, citizen, or student.  1 business, marriage, or classroom. 1 deal, game, or day.  Or focus on 1 concrete chunk of an experience: 1 prototypical visit, 1 day, 1 month in the quarter.
  • Comparisons help the listener understand the magnitude of a number relative to something they understand and appreciate.  Convert and compare it to a concrete object, recast it into time, space, distance, or money.
  • Tie the number to a livid or emotional connection.

As I was reading this book, I realized that it takes work, thoughtfulness, and creativity to express a number (or set of numbers) in a meaningful and memorable way.  This book is the spark to access that creativity.


For more information about elevating your team results, processes and relationships, contact master facilitator, Kristin Arnold at 800.589.4733.

KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CPF | Master, CSP is a high-stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator.  She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 27 years.  She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action.  Her latest book, 123 Ways to Add Pizazz to a Panel Discussion was published in January 2021.

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KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CSP, CPF|Master has been facilitating meaningful conversations between executives and managers to make better decisions and achieve extraordinary results for 25+ years. She's a leading authority on moderating panel discussions and passionate about finding the perfect olive to complement a vodka martini.

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