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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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