graphToday at church they presented the new fiscal year budget by way of public announcement.  It was a typical non-profit budget announcement: Here’s what we did last year; Here’s what we’re changing this year; We’d love for you to be involved (last year less than 2% of the congregation showed up for the budget approval meeting).  The whole thing this morning lasted less than a minute (which felt about 20 seconds too long!).

During the “announcement”, the 2012-13 change was announced as a “2.4% increase”.  My son (age 11, and always the ham) leans over to me and whispers, “Oooh.  Wow!  2.4%!

Then he leaned over in a serious tone and asked, “Is that a lot?

He couldn’t have been more on target.  That’s what EVERY audience member needs to know when statistics are presented.  Is it a lot?  Is it unexpected?  Is it normal?  Is it a drastic change from the past? Why do I care about that number?

It comes up in my PowerPoint class most often, but it should be part of any content development and even delivery class as well.  Numbers are just numbers.  And we are pummeled with them.  The Earth’s population cleared 7 billion.  Apple’s stock price is $603.   71%.  Half.  Drop/Increase.  32.  44. Section 3.B.2.ii paragraph 6.

Technical people are frequently the worst offenders.  Any number could be good or bad depending on how it’s interpreted.  The numbers mean NOTHING without an attached interpretation.  Make that meaning real for your audience (and it better be based on some decent analysis, or the engineers in the audience will discredit — and maybe heckle — you mightily).

BTW, 82.4% of statistics are made up.  And that’s a LOT.

Don’t ever give statistics without their meaning to the audience.