People flying into Heathrow airport today will be greeted by a huge painting on a playing field of British heptathlete Jessica Ennis, according to a radio report I heard this morning.
Just as I was trying to work out how “huge” it would have to be to spot from a 747, the reporter helpfully added, “..that’s about the size of 15 tennis courts”.
Now I could really picture it in my mind’s eye.
This shows that when it comes to a media report or interview – or presentation for that matter – context counts. Journalists become very excited by extremes, big or small, fast or slow, hot or cold and especially by large numbers; they become even happier when you add meaning to them.
So if you have figures to convey, always prepare a simple comparison to give the reader or listener a sense of scale.
When you’re talking about a large quantity of litres or gallons, what would that equate to say, in terms of paddling pools, baths, or Olympic-sized swimming pools? If you’re describing a big area, how many football pitches or tennis courts would that be? As for lightning strikes, I’ve heard it said a billion volts create enough power to keep a 100w lightbulb lit for three months…now it’s all making much more sense.
There was the perfect example of how to get it right in a recent documentary about the Greek deficit. Just as my eyes were glazing over at talk of a debt that ran into a zillion trillion Euros (‘Is that more or less than a squillion?’ I wondered), suddenly the commentator said, “And that’s like every Greek running up an overdraft on their bank account of 30,000 Euros”. Hooray – at last I had some sense of how grim it is down south, Athens way.
So if you ever find yourself tempted to say something like, “The average long-distance lorry driver travels 48,000 miles a year,” make sure you add, “and that’s like driving to Australia and back twice”.
Oh, and if you want to know how many letters I’ve typed for this blog, I wouldn’t dream of saying it’s around 1800; it’s simply more than enough to fill a dinner plate with alphabet spaghetti.
For once making a meal of it has helped, hasn’t it?