Be Kind to Your Audience, Frame Large Figures into Human Proportions


The problem I see every week, is a professional who wants to use data to support their business solution, but the data is beyond quick human understanding. Any point that references millions, billions or trillions is a good starting point to an educational story, but needs framed to speak directly to a reader’s ability.

This doesn’t mean your reader is dumb or uneducated, they simply can't compute enormous figures. 

Increasingly becoming a problem is focus. Most likely your reader is bombarded with bullshit advertisements, news and multimedia content every-single-day. The point behind framing a large number into a legible format is to show your reader you’ve taken the time to compose your story for them, allowing them to quickly scan your solution, then digest each chapter in clear format.

When researching and discovering these large figures that support your business, verify your findings and be conservative. Validate your findings with multiple credible sources for accuracy, and always round down to be safe. If you find one source that states 102 million and another says 98 million, be cautious and decrease down to 95 million. Mentally visualizing the difference between 98 and 95 million of anything isn’t going to paint your story in a different tone, and if a reader follows up on your sources, they will see you didn't exaggerate any figures.

Telling your reader some problem accounts for, or costs billions is a wasted opportunity. There’s 7.4 billion people in the world. Bill Gates has over 78 billion dollars. 150 billion animals are killed for food every year. Listing these figures doesn’t frame a visual in your mind. Yes they give you a feeling inside of the scale, but can you actually see what 7.4 billion looks like right now. Close your eyes and imagine what 78 billion dollars looks like in cash. What does 150 billion animals look like? These numbers can’t be visualized in a format that tells a clear or engaging story. Sure, they could be thrown into a bar graph or broken down into a lovely pie chart, but that doesn’t tell your reader much more than a ratio.

The solution is to frame these figures in an honest, clever, speedy and relevant manner to your audience.

Example A:

If you’re talking about a problem that affects 18 million men in the United States, correlate this problem to men who live in the US. When speaking about a number of people, using a spatial correlation works well.

If 18 million men in the US have Problem A, that is equivalent to:

  • Every man in California having Problem A.
  • Problem A would fill up 250 NFL stadiums.

The chances of US men understanding the size of a football stadium or the vast population of California would frame the severity of Problem A into a manner a guy in the US most likely could relate to.

Example B:

If you wanted to communicate the $600 billion that is used in US military spending in 2015, saying $600 billion is simply too large of number to fathom. Again, can you visualize what $600 billion would look like? Can you imagine the paperwork of the breakdown of the thousands of ways this $600 billion is likely divided up? No way.

A way to frame this into a visual most can grasp, is to sculpt the data into a human proportion.

If each American had to equally fund the 2015 military budget, each person would have to pay $1,875. That’s $156 a month. A little more than $5 a day.

Eighteen hundred is an understandable figure. That’s rent or a mortgage in many places. That’s easy to comprehend. You can visualize what $1,875 looks like in cash, and you can easily think of 3 things right now you want to buy for your business or personal use that equals $1,875. Right?

By framing data into human proportions, you will clearly show your reader the problem your solving, and why you're a solution they should take serious.

Chris Brock