Numbers can numb – on paper (or on screen) and in your spoken presentations. Not everyone gets the significance of numbers. You can become a better communicator by making numbers meaningful. You can learn from how Bono makes numbers meaningful – and dramatic.

Do you know the U2’s song Numb? The Edge (on purpose) sings in a flat monotonous mantra – where all the words become so numbing and dull.

Numbers and statistics can be numbing too. The more numbers you give – the greater the risk of numbing your audience. You can be far more effective if you “paint a picture” (make it visual) to make the numbers meaningful.

When speaking in Washington D.C. at the 54th National Prayer Breakfast (link at the end of this post for you to check out), Bono could have just aid:

“In Africa, 150,000 people die a month.”

Instead  – his message was far more dramatic and attention-grabbing.

What “mental image” comes to mind when you read this?

“Look what happened in South East Asia with the Tsunami. 150, 000 lives lost to the misnomer of all misnomers, “mother nature”. Well, in Africa, 150,000 lives are lost every month — a tsunami every month.  And it’s a completely avoidable catastrophe.“


BonoKeynote Address at the 54th National Prayer Breakfast

For me, this creates a dramatic mental image of a tsunami sweeping across Africa every month – like the South East Asian tsunami happening not just once – but every month!

Also, the image is urgent – instead of Africans dying individually and quietly, there is the image of a lot of people dying at once (more collectively). It’s more impactful.

I am trying to make a point here – certainly, not being disrespectful to people dying in Africa!

For me, there is also the connotation that the world responded to the Asian tsunami with an outpouring of aid.  Yet, the African emergency does not get the same attention.


How you can make numbers meaningful and visual

You don’t have to be as dramatic as Bono for presenting your numbers – but you can make your point more memorable by being visual.

For example, you are speaking to an audience and you present a number or statistic – the number of people affected at risk of catching a disease – let’s say 1 in 8.

You are presenting to rows of people in your audience. Be prepared and know how many seats in a row.

Relate your number to how many people in the row would be affected. Get your audience to look along the row, see the people next to them (see people not just numbers) and realize how many people in their row who are at risk. You could do the same if people are sitting around tables at a breakfast

You can even engage the audience’s help – with something like:

 “Just to give us perspective of what that means, can you please help us out? Now this will require some counting. Can every 8-th person along a row starting over here on your left please stand up. Every 8-th person stand up.Take a moment to look around you. This is how many people are at risk”

Getting people to do something physical and visual – makes the numbers more visual.

You don’t want to do this for every number. Just pick the most dramatic one/s you want your audience to remember. Don’t let a number or statistic whizz past people and not be remembered.

Go to the effort of making your numbers visual and memorable. Don’t numb with numbers!

Here’s the link to text, video and audio of Bono’s speech:


This is a fantastic site – American Rhetoric – packed with powerful speeches


2 thoughts on “Don’t numb with numbers – How Bono makes numbers meaningful

  1. Pingback: Bono’s TED 2013 talk – How Bono makes numbers “sexy” and memorable | Pro Bono Bono

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