March 3, 2022

Books for Speakers: ‘Making Numbers Count’


Speaker's Bookshelf , Resources , Presentation Tips

"This book is based on a simple observation: we lose information when we don't translate numbers into instinctive human experience."

– from the introduction to "Making Numbers Count"

Making Numbers Count:
The Art and Science of Communicating Numbers

by CHIP HEATH and KARLA STARR

At The Buckley School, we're adamant that speakers make numbers in presentations easy to comprehend. We also happen to be fans of Made to Stick, another book that was co-authored by Chip Heath.

So yes, we were eager to crack this one open. If you want to improve the way you present numbers, you'll find a lot of good ideas here.

For us the best aspect of this book is not the science they cite or the attempts to classify their methods. It's the examples.

The examples will inspire you to try harder, think more creatively, and see the world a little differently yourself, even when you know exactly what your numbers mean.

Many of the book's techniques will feel familiar: We see them in advertising campaigns (4 out of 5 dentists instead of 80% of dentists, for example).

The challenge for most of us is to do the mental lifting to find these ways of expressing our own numbers—or translating them, as Heath and his co-author Karla Starr prefer to call it.

As you read their examples, you may find—as we did—that not all of their translations work equally well. We don't all have the same reference points. We don't all share the same point of view. As with any advice about crafting messages or speaking in public, you have to apply your judgment, consider the audience, and choose the methods that work for you. 

Making Numbers Count, however, is a great easy-to-use resource for anyone who wants to improve the way they talk about numbers.

And you don't have to read it cover to cover to benefit. Just crack it open anywhere, take a look, and we suspect you'll find an idea that, even if not new to you, is one you can use.

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