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Presentation Challenge – How Do You Represent Data in a Meaningful Way

 

There are 2.5 million children in South Africa who are orphaned, living in child-head households.

Wait, what?  Child-head households?  I’ve heard of single parent household, child-head households, you mean…

That’s right a child, usually a teen ager, has to assume the head of the household because the parents are gone, typically, they’ve died of aids.

 

That was the conversation I had with my friend Lisa Calhoun with Ambassador Connections who has accepted a call to work with South African orphans over the next two years.  The idea of child-head households shook me.  I got involved to help Lisa help these orphans in South Africa.

 

How Do You Represent Numbers in a Presentation?

Before she left for South Africa, I worked with Lisa help refine the presentation she delivered to churches and individuals asking for their prayerful and financial support for the work she is now doing in South Africa.

We were looking for a way to make the statistic more tangible to the average person.  You can put the number 2.5 million children on a slide, but it’s hard to imagine 2.5 million.  Sounds like a lot.  Is it a lot?

 

What Can We Use as a Guideline for How to Represent Data?

While I was still wrestling with how to represent this number in a presentation, I came across a TED Talk by Ron Finley.  Finley has started a gardening movement in South Central Los Angles.  His TED Talk is amazing and worth the listen so I’ve embedded it below.


About 4:08 into the video, Finley uses an illustration to describe how many vacant lots exist in South Central LA.  He compared the 23 acres of vacant lots to something that seems more tangible – Central Park in New York.  If you want to see how he did it, watch the video!  It’s far better than I could explain.

 

Match the Statistic to a Familiar Example with Similar Characteristics

As I watched Finley’s example I realized that part of what made it work was that he was comparing apples to apples – so to speak.  He was describing a geographic area and compared the acres to another, recognizable geographic area.

So thinking back to the orphaned children in South Africa.  How could I compare the population of orphans to something more tangible to Americans.  Here’s what I came up with.

The 2.5 million children is more than the entire populations of the 14 different US states:  New Mexico, Nebraska, West Virginia, Idaho, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, Alaska, Vermont and Wyoming.

Here are the slides that I developed to illustrate the point.

Illustrating Data

Introduce the statistic.

Representing Statistics in Presentations

Then click to the next slide and say, “That’s more than the entire population of each of these 14 US states:

Idaho  Montana  Wyoming  South Dakota  Nebraska  New Mexico  Alaska  Hawaii

West Virginia  Delaware  Rhode Island  Vermont  New Hampshire  Maine

Representing Stats in PowerPoint

 

Is This Statistical Comparison Successful?  What Do You Think?

So what is your opinion?  Does that approach work to make the point?  Is there a better way to represent the idea of 2.5 million children?  I welcome your input in the comments below!

 

Support Lisa Calhoun’s Efforts in Helping the South African Orphans

If you’d like to help Lisa’s efforts in South Africa, you can…Lisa Calhoun in South Africa

Pray for Lisa and the people she’s working with in South Africa

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7 comments
Kelly
Kelly

Kelly: As usual, you're top drawer and continue to give. Thank God for the gift of you. bob berlin

Chris lynn
Chris lynn

I think you could make it more compelling as follows: The child population of S.Africa is 15m, versus 64m in the US (see http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=number+of+children+in+south+africa+versus+USA) So 2.5m living in child head of households is one sixth of all SA children. This would be the same proportion as if over 10m US children were in the same situation. This is more than all the (9m under 17yrs) children in California. So you could say that, proportionately, the SA situation is as if every child in California were orphaned.

KellyVandever
KellyVandever

Chris - Thanks for replying and offering another approach. Can you imagine if every child in California was orphaned. Blows the mind. I appreciate you taking the time to weigh in with an alternative approach! Kelly

Steve Cohn
Steve Cohn

When I help people with their presentations, I use the old rule I learned in broadcast journalism: Don’t be too specific on figures because people will not remember them. So, 2.187 million becomes “a little over 2 million” and “18,974 becomes “Almost 19 thousand.” A range of 6.75 and 7:15 billion becomes “in the area of 7 billion.” Specifics in numbers are only for the printed page or website where people can refer back to them, not the presentation. You want people hanging on your words, not your slides. But spoken words quickly disappear into the air so people will remember the general numbers rather than the specifics.

Steve Cohn
Steve Cohn

When I help people with their presentations, I use the old rule I learned in broadcast journalism: Don't be too specific on figures because people will not remember them. So, 2.187 million becomes "a little over 2 million" and "18,974 becomes "Almost 19 thousand." A range of 6.75 and 7:15 billion becomes "in the area of 7 billion." Specifics in numbers are only for the printed page or website, not the presentation. You want people hanging on your words, not your slides. But spoken words quickly disappear into the air so people will remember the general numbers rather than the specifics.

KellyVandever
KellyVandever

Thanks for the comment Steve! Helpful insight!