Using Statistics, Numbers, and Charts Without Boring Your Audience

Lynn Meade

Using Statistics in Your Speech Can:

  • Increase your credibility. Using credible research in interesting ways will demonstrate how informed you are.
  • Make your speech memorable. Effectively used statistics can give the audience something to think about long after the speech is over. Let me share with you a couple of examples from my experience. More than ten years ago, I had a student hand each of us a folded piece of paper. At a set time during his speech, he had us stand if we had an X on our paper. I stood and looked around at four others who were standing. We were then asked to open our paper and read it aloud. Mine said “chlamydia.” He went on to tell us for a class the size of ours, statistics suggest at least five of us had a sexually transmitted infection.
  • Emotionally impact your audience. A properly applied statistic can make us feel something. For example, Telling your audience that according to UNESCO many children do not get to go to school is one thing, sharing with them that in sub-Saharan Africa, one in five children between the ages of six and eleven are not in school. In addition, of those youth ages 15-16, 60% are not in school. To really impact the listeners, a speaker might include a picture of a child. To help students apply the statistic, they might say, “Consider if over half of your high school class was denied access to school.

Tips for Using Numbers in Speech

Round large numbers off

Instead of saying the US national debt is 27,887,185,810,245, say 28 trillion. Better yet, help the audience understand by saying the US national debt is 28 billion– that represents is $84,000 per citizen and $222,000 per taxpayer. Round statistics to make them easier to remember. Better yet, help the audience apply them. For example, instead of just saying “more than a quarter (25%) of all traffic-related deaths are the direct result of alcohol impairment, you might say, “One in four.”

Help your audience visualize numbers by using comparisons

You can say Nik Wallenda walked the 1,400 feet on a wire over the Grand Canyon, but you can help us to understand it by adding a comparison, “He walked 1400 feet– that is the length of four football fields–on a wire.”

In 1961, Micky Mantel sent the ball flying 643 feet for the longest home run. To put it in perspective that is 1,257-dollar bills laid end to end.

One speech teacher said her student carried in a 50-pound bag of dog food and sat it on the table and then said, “This used to be me before I lost weight. I no longer carry this bag around with me everywhere I go.”


We humans are a smart bunch, 
but we really suck when it comes to understanding
and handling excessively large numbers. 

George Dvorsky, Writer and bioethicist

Check Out These Examples
of Visualizing Large Numbers

  • Bill Gates has 56 billion dollars. He has earned over $3000 per minute ($50/second) since Microsoft was created. For perspective, Azad says, For Bill Gates, “spending 5 seconds to pick $100 off the floor is literally not a good use of his time.”
  • “The Mariana Trench reaches to a maximum depth of 36,000 feet, that’s tough to make sense of.  It’s much easier for our brains to understand that as 6.8 miles (11 km), which is a distance we already have a pretty good intuition for.” Spencer Greenberg
  • “If you go hang gliding, you have a roughly 1 in 116,000 chance of being killed during that flight. Is that a lot of risk? It’s very tough to tell. But here’s another way to think about it. If you’re a 30-year-old male in the U.S., you have about a 1 in 260,000 chance of dying tomorrow. So that means that tomorrow, by going hang gliding once, you’re taking on 3.2 times more risk than you usually do in a given day! So that gives a new way of thinking about hang gliding risk if you’re a 30-year-old male in the United States: You’re tripling your usual risk of death for each such flight you take.” Mathematician Spencer Greenberg.
  • “So, let’s take a figure like $400,000,000 dollars — which happens to be Powerball’s next jackpot amount. How much money is that, really?  That’s tough to make sense of but if you live for 60 more years, that’s 525,600 hours remaining in your life, so if you win that jackpot — not taking into account time/value discounting and inflation considerations — that’s like getting paid $761 per hour for each hour in the rest of your life (including when you’re asleep).” Mathematician Spencer Greenberg.
  • “San Francisco’s metro area has about 4.3 million people. How many is that? Well, if you spoke to each person for one minute, and you did that eight hours a day, it would take you 24.5 years to speak to them all.” George Dorsky
  • What does it mean to think about 400,000 people? One thing I like to do is break it down into something I’m familiar with and that I can kind of visualize: the crowd attending a sporting event. For example, hockey arenas seat about 20,000 people. So, you could envision 400,000 people as 20 hockey arenas worth of people.” George Dorsky
  • Historian Gwynne Dyer compared the carnage of combined casualties between 72,000 and 73,000 at Borodino to “a fully-loaded 747 crashing, with no survivors, every 5 minutes for eight hours.”


Spread numbers throughout your speech

It is tempting to have the “numbers section” of your speech, it is much better to spread them out. If we hear too many numbers all at once, we stop paying attention. Help us to process the number by giving us time to think in between them.

Set up the statistic

Give verbal cues that what we are about to hear is important.

  • I am going to give you a number, that will surprise you.
  • Let me tell you about this interesting statistic I heard.
  • This number may shock you as much as it does me.
  • I was surprised to learn that…

Say the numbers clearly and with emphasis

  • Speak slower when saying numbers
  • Repeat the number when necessary
  • Pause before saying the number to give the audience time to prepare to listen
  • Pause after saying a number to let it sink in

Pair the number with a story

When you pair your number with a powerful graphic or story, it becomes even more moving.

When I think of the low literacy rate, I think of a man I know. He was the high school football star who was pushed through school so he could play on the team. He graduated with a letterman’s jacket and fame as a hometown hero. He graduated a star, a star who was unable to read. At eighteen years old, he was handed a diploma and sent out into the world unable to read a job application, unable to read a medical form at the doctor’s office, and unable to read his son a story before bed. When I think of one in five adults, I think of him and, all of a sudden, it is more than a number.

Tell them why it is important

Don’t just tell a story about your statistic, tell why it matters.

The illiterate football star went on to have four children of his own. When his daughter needed help with her reading, dad couldn’t help. When the children did learn to read, they would read for dad. They would read his mail, his paperwork, his government documents.

Statistics shouldn’t just hang there, they should be emphasized, make relatable, and applies.

Use charts to persuade your audience

In this D-News video, they tell you about what research says about the best way to convince someone they are wrong.  Watch here:

Use Charts to Highlight the Content

I learn best by example, so let me show you and not just tell. Watch how these speakers used their charts.

Watch how Tim Urban creatively uses charts at the beginning to make a big point.

Watch the first three minutes of this speech and how Alice Goffman brilliantly uses a graph. This video has to be watched on the TED YouTube channel.

Notice in the first two examples that the charts are simple and easy to read. They emphasize the point that is being made.

Sebastian Wernicke takes a tongue-in-cheek look at statistics regarding the most and least popular TED talks. This is a creative way to show data and statistics as he tells you how to create the “optimum TED Talk.”

He references his Tedpad in the speech, here is the link so you can see more for yourselves go to Tedpad.

Key Takeaways

Remember This!

  • Effectively using, charts, data, and statistics can increase credibility, emotionally impact your audience, and make your speech memorable.
  • Help the audience relate to numbers by rounding off large numbers, using comparisons, and pairing the number with a story.
  • Spread statistics throughout your speech, set up the statistic, and repeat important numbers.
  • Always tell the audience why the statistic is important.
  • When using charts, make them large and easy to read.
For more information on this topic to include classroom activities and videos, go to the supplemental materials chapter


Azad, K. (n.d.) How to develop a sense of scale. Better explained: Learn right not rote.

CDC. Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Data from the CDC.

Covington, T. (2021). Drunk driving statistics.

Crime Victims Center, Statistics-Offenders.

DNews: (2014). How to convince someone they are wrong.

Dvorsky, G. (2014). How to understand incomprehensibly large numbers.

Dyer, G. (1988). War. Crown Publishing.

Duarte, N. (2019). Datestory: Explain date and inspire action through story. Ideapress Publishing.

Duarte, N. (2013). When presenting your date, get to the point fast. Harvard Business Review.

Duarte, N. (2008). Slideology: The art and science of creating great presentations. Oreilly.

End it Movement.

Goffman, A. How we’re priming some kids for college—and others for prison. [Video]. YouTube. and_others_for_prison?language=en

Google News. Cases of COVID worldwide.

Grasping Large Numbers. (2015). The endowment to human growth.

Kienzle, B. (2020). Data and slides: Confuse your audience or captivate them? Your choice. Custom essay written for this text.

King, D. (2013). Six tips for using numbers in a speech. Kings Corners.

The Mick. (n.d.). Mickey Mantle set the record for the longest home run of 643 feet in 1961.

Mikaberidze, A. (2007). The battle of Borodino: Napolean against Kutuzov. Pen and Sword.

National Geographic. (n.d). Planetary size and distance comparison.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2019). Adult literacy in the United States.

Reynolds, G. (2008). Presentationzen. New Riders.

Romans, C. (2009). Numb and number: Is trillion the new billion? CNN.

Truth in Accounting. (n.d.). Our Debt Clock

Unesco Institue for Statistics. Education in Africa.

Urban, T. (2016). Inside the mind of a master procrastinator. [Video] YouTube.

U.S. Debt

Wernicke, S. (2010). Lies, damned lies, and statistics (about TEDTalks). [Video] YouTube.