Using Visual Images to Convey Size and Quantity
Not to stereotype communicators, but on the whole we’re not great with math. We’re far more comfortable in the realm of words, ideas and images than numbers and statistics.
When I have to communicate about quantity, size, volume, etc., I’ve found that using a visual image can help the audience better grasp and understand the concept of size.
When I worked at Underwriters Laboratories, I would give tours of the facility in Research Triangle Park, N.C. For years I would say that UL has developed more than 19,000 safety standards. More often than not, that figure just bounced off my audience. So one day I followed that up with “That’s like one safety standard for every seat in the RBC Center.” The audience that day nodded in understanding since I gave them an image they could relate to.
Here’s another example from my personal life. When having raised beds put into our backyard garden, I ordered three cubic yards of dirt. The dirt was delivered to our driveway, and it was my job to transport it to the backyard and dump it into the newly created space framed by treated railroad tires. I told my dad the dirt mound resembled a VW Beetle and he immediately pictured it.
One last example. I know that it’s common to refer to properties in terms of acreage. I must confess, I previously had no clue as to how big an acre actually is until I came across a visual I could relate to. In it, the size of an acre was superimposed on a graphic of an American football field, and ran from one end zone to the opposite 10 yard line. So I know now that an acre is about the same area as a football field from sideline to sideline and 90 yards long.
What visual images to you use to help convey numbers and size?