How Much? How Many?

In my presentation seminars, we discuss the dangers of using statistics in a presentation. A main reason is that you can adapt data to make it mean whatever you want it to mean.  

There are times, however, when statistics can be used effectively. Those times are when we answer these two questions, “How much?” and “How many?”  When you answer those questions, qualify your answers with these three characteristics:  few, fresh, and forceful.

Use few statistics. Take for example the problem with garbage. Edward Humes in a recent Wall Street Journal article wrote that Americans toss out over seven pounds of trash per person each day. A single statistic was sufficient to cover “how many.”

Make the statistics fresh. Recency is important. Check the internet regularly to find the latest statistics on your topic. Because we all lug cans of garbage to the curb each week, garbage is continually fresh—well, the garbage isn’t, but the idea of it is—on our minds.

In the Cincinnati area where I live, a huge controversy has arisen over the need to build a new bridge across the Ohio River.  The Brent Spence Bridge presently in use is old and was never made to handle the amount of traffic that now flows over it.

An guest column by Julie Janson in The Cincinnati Enquirer stated that a billion dollars’ worth of goods crosses the bridge every day, and each month that construction is delayed the cost of the new bridge increases eight million dollars. Few and fresh are both inherent in these two statistics. These two statistics are sufficient to answer “How much?”

You can make all the above data forceful by your delivery manner. Pause before you speak the statistic and then punch out the number. Perhaps take a step toward the audience as you deliver a particularly powerful statistic.

Don’t make statistics a major part of your next presentation. Instead, carefully place one or two statistics in your speech.  Make sure the number you mention is relevant. Add some drama by pausing and punching out the data. Then you will have answered the two most important questions audience members want answered:  “How many?”  and “How much?”

When you use statistics in this manner, you will be less likely to come to the conclusion of Mrs. Robert Taft: “I always find that statistics are hard to follow and impossible to digest. The only one I can remember is that if all the people who go to sleep in church were laid end to end they would be a lot more comfortable.”

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or reply to this email.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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