What First Graders Can Teach Us About Presenting Numbers
By Karthik Rajan
“Thirty six men standing on top of each other and sixteen elephants at the top, ”was the overwhelming answer from a group of first graders. The question I posed, “What do you remember most from today’s presentation?”
I have presented to large groups but this small group was different. When I was offered a chance to make a difference, I grabbed it. The goal – open their minds to possibilities of the world- math, science, geography – you name it. I covered a range of examples. When I heard their answer to my question, my immediate thoughts, “Hmmm, this is interesting.”
Here is the origin of this story.
During the presentation, I had projected a picture of a 1000+ year old temple, famous in South India and little known to the outside world. This Thanjavur temple was a bus ride away from my grandparents home on Cauvery river delta. I had visited the temple when I was about their age. It was an architectural marvel. Standing at the base of the temple, I looked up in wonder.
My uncle proudly shared, “Yep, all granite, one of the heaviest stone on earth.” He added, “the top of the temple is a two piece massive stone weighing 80 tons.” I gaped, “Sounds big, really how heavy?” My uncle thought for a moment, “about 16 fully grown elephants”, he said. That I could phantom- really heavy!
Being the curious kind, I followed up, “How did they lift 16 elephant heavy stone to the top?” My uncle said, “we need to ask an engineer.” That was the birth of an idea in my supple mind- an interest in applied science.
When I walked into the 1st grader’s class, I wanted to create an excitement for math, an excitement for hard and applied science, an excitement for exploring the world’s architecture. In their raw, unvarnished feedback, the 1st graders reflected back to me why I became interested in the science side – the power of creative imagination– 16 elephants is the association I still relate to.
All these adult years, when I sat through presentation trainings, when I watched Apple product introductions, when I read Carmine Gallo’s earnest eloquence to present like Steve Jobs – I understood the importance of relating numbers to things we can imagine. Today, in the answer of the kids, I felt it again, just like how my uncle explained it the first time.
What it means to us @home and @work
My uncle is far from the kind who would set a stage ablaze with his oratory. He was a thoughtful person who germinated a memorable thought on the gravity of a number through the power of images.
When the arc lights are on you and you have a number to share, 16 elephants is a helpful trigger!
When you face the audience, connectivity is the hardest one – statistics can make you sound smart, comparing numbers to real images can make the audience feel good about themselves. There is a world of difference. The ability to relate provides the ultimate nod of approval and acknowledgement.
Here is an example: An iPad Air is 7.5 mm is a statement. Or see the clip below.
My takeaway – one step further!
What really happened in the class, I wonder. Was I mesmerized by raised hands, elbows erect, reaching up as high as they can with bubbling earnestness to share their answer? Was I moved by the riveting attention of the young minds during the presentation? Was I blown away by the pop up of images from decades gone by? I cannot pencil in on one of them.
What I can share with certainty – memorable memories are to be treasured and many stem from power of imagery – not spelt out but crafted in our own minds on how we imagine it.
As I left the classroom, I felt something very profound – a way of communicating left brain stuff with right brain finesse – an ability to relate numbers through the power of visualization – 36 men, 6 ft tall and 16 elephants at the top! I had no elephants in front of me, no men stacked on top of each other –the power of their own imagination made it more vivid for the children to treasure.
Image credit: Photo by Arian Zwegers / CC BY 2.0
I enjoy writing at the intersection of analytics and human relationships. Follow or connect with me on LinkedIn.