On Translating Really Big Numbers and Giving Them a Human Context

I am pretty big into data visualization right now: how can communicators help people understand data with charts or pictures. It’s all the rage. But communicators still need to think about how to contextualize really big numbers with words that evoke images. In disaster reporting you often hear things like, “The wildfires burned an area larger than the state of Rhode Island!” or “The oil spill could fill 1000 olympic swimming pools.” (I’m not suggesting that either of these are very good examples, they are basically stand-ins for saying “really big” because the writer or speaker is completely convinced of the innumeracy of his audience. Today I encountered an article about a topic that interests me, food waste. I didn’t get too far into it before my mind (and fingers) were off on a tangent. Here is the second sentence: To give you an idea of how much 3,000 tons is, that’s the weight of the new warship USS Little Rock, set to be commissioned later this year. Do you know how big a warship is? I don’t. Do you want to click through just to find out? I don’t.  Using an analogy to help the reader understand a quantifiable measure only really helps when the analogous thing is something your audience knows about. Otherwise it just means, “really big”. So here are a few better ways to quantify 3,000 tons: 1 ton is 2,000 pounds, so 3,000 tons is 6 Million pounds. We all know how much we weigh, and have a sense of a pound of food, we often buy food by weight. If it were all...

It’s not just what you say, but how you say it: Tips for improving your communication skills

Communication skills are critically important to success in most industries, even if a position itself does not count among its responsibilities “communication” or “public speaking” you will need to communicate well to land it. Entire books have been written on communication skills, from those specifically about public speaking, to others about designing persuasive presentations, and still more about body language. This article distills some common and key advise to help you become a better communicator. The advice that follows is declarative, and sometimes unequivocal, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions to these rules. I’ve split these recommendations into three sections, Nonverbal Delivery, Verbal Delivery, and Content, and presented it in that order because most research shows that is the order in which your public presenting influences your audience’s opinion of you and what you say. Nonverbal Delivery – Body Language Humans are attracted to, and thus distracted by motion. This is a survival skill and is innate. You want to minimize or eliminate any motion that would distract your audience from paying attention to your face (facial expressions) and your presentation (content). Body: Don’t rock, sway, step, pace or otherwise significantly move your feet during short presentations or interviews/networking conversations.  Plant your feet parallel to each other, approximately hip width apart, with both feet flat on the ground. If you need to turn to different people in a small audience, turn from your hips facing your entire body toward the individual(s) you are addressing. Try to avoid turning only your head (like a tennis spectator at half court) unless you are making an “aside” comment. When presenting in...

Shrink that giant Powerpoint file

We’ve all probably run into this at one point or other: you’ve created a visually stunning Powerpoint deck, but the file is absolutely huge! You can’t email it, or it just takes forever to open or save it… well there is a solution: In PPT for Windows, file > save as — tools, look for “Reduce file size“ In PPT for Mac, file > reduce file size This will shrink the total size of your Powerpoint file by optimizing the images you’ve...

Do you manage social media for a Washington food business?

I am conducting a survey and interviews about food industry use of social media (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Tumblr, blogs) for a presentation at the 10th Farmer-Fisher-Chef Connection presented by FORKS on March 21st. If you are responsible for posting to social media for your Washington based food business, please take a few minutes to take the survey, you could win a registration to the event! If you’d like to have a cup of coffee and talk about how you use social media, get in...

Bernie Sanders’s Revolution Needs a Better Plan

If Bernie Sanders is serious about a political transformation in America, he needs a better plan. Source: Bernie Sanders’s Revolution Needs a Better Plan I am particularly interested in this section of the article: But Sanders could invite artists from all around the country, famous or not, to create work that spreads the message of his campaign. Culture shapes norms: about inequality,  racism, violence. And culture that isn’t made by the campaign but by the people packs a punch. Which reminds me of the Creative Action Network, of my blog post about leveraging art and artists for social change from back in 2013, and of Downtown4Democracy, which once again seems defunct, but was active in 2004, and it seems again in...

It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.”

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Hacking and password security

My recent article on why password security matters to all of us, and especially those of us who run accounts for organizations and businesses, originally posted on the Resource Media Blog.   Another day, another data breach. We have been inured to the news of corporations being hacked and our data being spilled out into the black market: Target, Home Depot, Anthem, Primera, American Express, Chase, Twitter… These represent large scale, sophisticated hacks, in most cases, targeting personal and financial information. But they are by no means the only security breaches that take place and affect millions of people. Individually we may be concerned about our bank account our email account being hacked. But as is often pointed out, we humans tend to worry about the wrong risks (stranger abduction rather than accidents as a threat to child safety, for example).  But every day many of us do something that puts us and our organizations in jeopardy. We use weak passwords and we share them in plain text over email. For the average individual, the chances of this vulnerability being exploited may be rather low and the impact can range from a relatively minor inconvenience to a major headache. But for individuals that manage organizational media, the damage can be major. Take, for example, the recent hacking of Big Think’s Facebook page. While the details are not yet clear, it is very likely, from what I understand, that a hacker gained access to one of the page admin’s accounts. The hacker then made his or herself an admin and deleted the legitimate admins. Though Big Think was able to...

I love pie, I hate pie charts

Reading through Tableau’s recent white paper, Which Chart Or Graph Is Right For You, I was heartened to see this explanation of pie carts: Pie charts should be used to show relative proportions – or percentages – of information. That’s it. Despite this narrow recommendation for when to use pies, they are made with abandon. As a result, they are the most commonly mis-used chart type. If you are trying to compare data, leave it to bars or stacked bars. Don’t ask your viewer to translate pie wedges into relevant data or compare one pie to another. Key points from your data will be missed and the viewer has to work too hard. AMEN! If you have to create charts or graphs, or interpret data for work or fun, you should review this white...