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Making Numbers Count on a Panel Discussion

Panelists often spout big numbers to make their point or dazzle the audience with their brilliance. But I’m not so sure how effective they are incommunicating the story behind the numbers on the paper, spreadsheet, or PowerPoint slide.


When sharing a number(s) with the audience, it is much more than the telling of the number or statistic.  The number(s) is important, but it’s the understanding of the situation, the emotion it generates, and the feeling the audience is left with that really matters.

Chip Heath and Karla Starr’s latest book, Making Numbers Count: The Art and Science of Communicating Numbers shows you exactly how to do that.

I love the fact that there are oodles of before/after comparative examples that are highlighted in green-colored boxes throughout the book.  The intent is that you read the book, then flip through it, using those boxes as a springboard to your own creativity.

Tips to Making Numbers Count on a Panel Discussion

So what kind of tips are we talking about?

  • Use Small Whole Numbers. The easiest thing to process is whole numbers under 10, preferably 1 to 5.
  • Favor User-Friendly Numbers.  If you have to present bigger numbers, round it out so it’s easier to mentally process the information. Unless the audience deals in decimals all the time, convert the numbers to a whole number.
  • Convert Fractions and Percentiles to 100. Fractions force people to do the math. Same with percentiles.  Instead, try the “village of 100” or “basket of 100” and convert those percentages into whole numbers.
  • Focus on the One.  Use something simple with a well-understood part of the overall scene: 1 employee, citizen, or student.  1 business, marriage, or classroom. 1 deal, game, or day.  Or focus on 1 concrete chunk of an experience: 1 prototypical visit, 1 day, 1 month in the quarter.
  • Comparisons and Analogies. Comparisons help the listener understand the magnitude of a number relative to something they understand and appreciate.  Convert and compare it to a concrete object, recast it into time, space, distance, or money.
  • Make it Real. Tie the number to a livid or emotional connection.

As I was reading this book, I realized that it takes work, thoughtfulness, and creativity to express a number (or set of numbers) in a meaningful and memorable way.  This book is the spark to access that creativity next time you need to make numbers count on a panel discussion.

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KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CSP, CPF | Master, professional panel moderator, and high stakes meeting facilitator is on a quest to make all panel discussions lively and informative. Check out her free 7 -part video series on how to moderate a panel and other resources to help you organize, moderate, or be a panel member.

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Kristin ArnoldKristin Arnold
KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CSP, CPF|Master has been facilitating meaningful conversations between executives and managers to make better decisions and achieve extraordinary results for 25+ years. She's a leading authority on moderating panel discussions and passionate about finding the perfect olive to complement a vodka martini.
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