After reading the title of this post you might be thinking, “Sounds easy” or “I already do that”.

Present some impressive sounding numbers about ROI or COI so the people making the decision can understand the value, right?

Wrong!

According to the Karla Starr and Chip Heath, authors of “Making Numbers Count”, simply sharing numbers is not enough to maximize our effectiveness.

Further, they’ve uncovered a myriad of ways to communicate numbers to ensure they truly resonate, motivate, and inspire.

Here is a summary of Heath and Starr’s top three recommendations.

Translate everything

According to the authors, making our numbers count starts with translating them into something our audience can more easily grasp. The simplest way to achieve this is by adding what they call a “perspective phrase”, for much needed context and contrast.

Such perspective phrases, once called to our attention, are actually quite present in our everyday lives, so much so that we probably take them for granted. For example, while briefly skimming the news, one might easily stumble upon a recent article on the Tongan disaster titled, “Tonga eruption equivalent to ‘hundreds of Hiroshima bombs,’ NASA says”.

Once we are made hip to the idea of translating numbers with perspective phrases we can quickly appreciate how this headline helps us grasp the true dimensions of the blast in a more impactful and visceral way than any stats about “megatons” or “eruption cloud height” ever could. 

Make it concrete 

Once we sold on the importance of translating our numbers the authors argue we should consider making one or more of modifications to help our numbers become more “concrete”.

For example, whenever possible, we should strive for using single digits. This is because research demonstrates a strong friendliness to our ancient brains, having evolved long before math was pioneered to its current heights.

Next, without compromising the integrity of our numbers, we should consider rounding up or down to a more prominent figure. (Think “250” vs “246.95”) Why so? According to the Starr and Heath’s research, they are simply more memorable.

Finally, whenever possible, use the value of 1. For example, we can compare $74,900 to “the productivity of one employee”, $2.3B to the revenue of “one Fortune 500 company”, 117 hours to “one week’s worth of time”, and on and on.

Make it emotional 

The third and final recommendation is to take time to create a much needed emotional punch. 

For example, returning to the Tongan example above, the comparison in the size to the blast to Hiroshima, aside from being effective click-bait on social media, hits especially hard due to the wide familiarity we possess with the scale and magnitude of this historic tragedy. Further, none of us need to be a history buffs to intuitively equate Hiroshima with suffering, devastation, and death, and frame the Tongan explosion accordingly.

Conclusion 

Why do I believe these ideas are important and potentially powerful?

When we are selling and negotiating we meet with people, get them excited about change, and leave haunted with the unfortunately reality that they will quickly forget much of what was talked about.

Further, days or weeks later, when asked to justify a potential purchase to others in their decision making circle – an absolutely pivotal moment – they find themselves grasping at straws to remember clear and compelling justifications for the risk of making a change. With doubt created in themselves and others, there exists enough friction to prompt withdrawal from change to the safety of the status quo.

However, if we can become better at making our numbers stick, we up our fighting chances at the winning battles we are not there to fight: the valuable ones.

So who’s up for less time spent crossing fingers and more time ensuring our influence is evergreen?

I say count me in.

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