Article Category: Speechwriting

Wrap Your Naked Statistics in a Warm Blanket of Meaning


Wrap Your Naked StatisticsNote: I originally wrote this article as a guest article for professional writer John Hewitt’s “Poewar” website. However, the article disappeared when the site was reorganized, so it has been published below for readers to enjoy. 

Including facts and statistics in your writing lends credibility to your assertions and grounds them in reality. Quoting a statistic from a credible source means that your arguments are no longer just your arguments: you stand united with experts.

However, a naked statistic – one provided without any meaningful context – leads to confusion rather than clarity. Numbers are often too large to grasp by themselves. Unless your audience are experts in the field, they won’t be able to intelligently interpret the statistic. You might get a momentary “wow” factor for a big number, but it won’t be memorable.

For your statistic to penetrate more, you must provide a useful context for the numbers, particularly if that context makes the numbers personal for your audience. Let’s consider a couple of examples to illustrate this.

Suppose you are writing an article about cancer deaths to encourage more research funding.

  • The assertion: Many people die from cancer every year.
  • The naked statistic: It is estimated that 565650 people in the United States will die from cancer in 2008.
  • Statistic with context: It is estimated that 565650 people in the United States will die from cancer in 2008. That’s about 1 of every 532 citizens.
  • Statistic with context made relevant to audience: It is estimated that 565650 people in the United States will die from cancer in 2008. That’s about 1 of every 532 citizens. You are among 2000 visitors to Poewar each day. Assuming these visitors are representative of the general population, statistics tell us that 4 of these visitors will die from cancer this year.

Source: American Cancer Society

Let’s tackle another example. Suppose you are writing an article about the need for youth mentors.

  • The assertion: There is a dire need for mentors to help youth make smart life decisions.
  • The naked statistic: Across the United States, 14.6 million children need mentors.
  • Statistic with context: Across the United States, 14.6 million children need mentors. This is 1 of every 2 children in the country.
  • Statistic with context made relevant to audience: Across the United States, 14.6 million children need mentors. This is 1 of every 2 children in the country. That’s 15 of the 30 students in your son’s class. That’s 8 of the 16 children invited to your daughter’s last birthday party.

Source: Mentoring.org

A well-placed statistic will enhance your article, but only if you wrap it with a meaningful context that relates to your audience.

For further information on explaining data in a presentation, see my speech critique of Hans Rosling: Six Simple Techniques for Presenting Data.

Please share this...

FacebookTwitterLinkedInPinterestEmail

This is one of many public speaking articles featured on Six Minutes.
Subscribe to Six Minutes for free to receive future articles.

Comments icon2 Comments

  1. Simon says:

    I agree with you… really I do… I’ve read the article and commented on it… but….

    but….. but while I like to look at pictures of attractive women in their underwear, what’s she doing on this post?!?! Tell me it’s not just a visual pun on the word “statistics”! 🙂

    S

  2. Great word picture “Wrap Your Naked Statistics in a Warm Blanket of Meaning” and it describes perfectly what you need to do with boring old statistics.

    I’m a big believer that people need to be able to visualise the things you are describing in a speech. It helps them understand, and it makes them remember.

    I’ll take a look at the John Hewitt article… thanks.

Tweets iconRecent Tweets

Links icon1 Blog Link

 

speakingaboutpresenting — Jun 20th, 2008