What are odds of winning Tuesday's record-setting $1.6 billion Mega Millions jackpot? Intuitively, you know it's a massive number. For the record, the odds of choosing all six numbers correctly in Tuesday's lottery are one in 302,575,350. Does that help? Probably not. It's too big a number to wrap your head around.
Here's how the Dallas News wrote about the odds of winning the Mega Millions jackpot:
"To put that into perspective, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the country's population is a little less than 329 million. Your chances of winning the lottery would be roughly the same if Mega Millions scrapped the numbered balls and a U.S. resident were chosen at random instead."
The Motley Fool went a few steps further, compiling a list of 25 things more likely to happen to you, including:
- Getting struck by lightning (more than once).
- Getting killed by a falling vending machine or a falling asteroid.
- Getting elected President of the United States.
- Becoming a professional basketball player (assuming you play in high school).
- Getting into Harvard.
- Giving birth to identical quadruplets.
In other words, just about impossible.
Those stats put the big numbers into context. It's a strategy that will make you a better presenter because great communicators follow the same formula. It begins with five words:
To put it into perspective.
Follow big numbers with one line of context.
The trick to presenting large data points or statistics is to deliver the number, followed by one sentence of context. Apple CEO Tim Cook follows this strategy. In one presentation he was reviewing Apple's fiscal year and said, "The Mac makes up 33 percent of Apple's business or $22 billion dollars. To put this into context, if the Mac business was a standalone, company it would be No. 110 on the Fortune 500 list."
33 percent doesn't mean much as a stand-alone number. Neither does $22 billion. It's just a big number. Putting the number into perspective makes the statistic more interesting and memorable.
Years ago, I was working with the marketing and sales staff at LinkedIn before it went IPO. They wanted to tout LinkedIn's growth at the time--three million new members a month. Now, three million is just a number. Out of context, it doesn't mean much.
Together we brainstormed ideas and developed a series of presentations for sales professionals across the country. If the pitch was happening in San Francisco, they'd say, "To put that into perspective, that's like adding three times the number of people who live in San Francisco--every month." If the pitch was happening in New York City, they'd say, "That's like adding 150 Madison Square Gardens every month."
Recently, I met with senior executives at Medtronic, the giant medical device maker. They showed me an effective campaign the company has been using for years. It follows the same strategy. It's called Every Three Seconds. Medtronic's devices are used to treat millions of patients every year. To put that into perspective, "Every three seconds a life is improved by a Medtronic product or therapy."
The next time you have a large number to show in a presentation, follow it up with the sentence, "To put that into perspective." Your audience will remember what you say next and the statistic will seem more impressive.