Quantation: How to Present Numbers with Skill (Book Review)
Numbers are everywhere.
Whether we are reading a report or presenting, numbers are a part of our lives.
It’s another way of communicating just like writing or speaking. The problem is, we don’t usually get taught how to present numbers. We’re lucky if we’re surrounded by the right people or the right examples to learn from.
Not any more.
You now have access to some of the best insight and action on presenting numbers. Randall Bolten shows us how to present numbers with skill. Randall’s new book, Painting with Numbers: Presenting Financials and Other Numbers So People Will Understand You, is the definitive guide to show you how. It’s the short-cut to mastering the art and science of presenting numbers in a way that’s compelling and professional. It’s a professional masterpiece that we can use for work and life to improve our personal effectiveness.
If you want to learn what the numbers mean or how to present them in a compelling way, Randall is your guy. He spent 20 years as a CFO in the Silicon Valley making sense of numbers, and helping others do the same. Now he runs a consulting practice that focuses on financial management and information presentation.
Quantation is not a word in the dictionary. Randall coined the word “quantation” as the subject of his book. It’s a combination of the two words “Quantitive” + “Communication.” Randall Bolten defines quantation as — “The act of presenting numbers, such as financial results, electronically, or in writen form for the purpose of informing an audience.”
It’s a Skill You can Learn
If you don’t think you’re a numbers person, this book is especially for you. What I really like about the book is that Randall treats it like a skill. It’s a skill you can learn, not a natural born talent. You would learn it just like other literacy abilities such as writing, reading, and speaking. He puts it in plain English and empowers you to use numbers more effectively, and, even better, understand the numbers that get thrown your way.
This book is very much a book you can use to advance your career, or to help you simply be more effective in daily life, when you have to deal with numbers, whether it’s balancing your checkbook, reviewing expenses, or reading the numbers they throw your way in the newspaper or on the Web.
I tend to measure the value of a book, based on the problems or challenges it solves. Randall gives practical and tactical advice, as well as strategic insight. Here is a sampling of some of the problems he addresses:
- How to apply quantation to your daily life, whether it’s reading reports or making meaning
- How to improve your personal brand by presenting numbers effectively
- How to think about numbers in a way that’s more approachable
- How to read numbers in a way that improves your understanding and clarity
- How to dramatically improve the effectiveness of the information you present
- How to trade off between complete, accurate, and useful
- How to relate to your audience in a constructive way
- How to use numbers to speak the truth
- How to layout information on a page
- How to choose between portrait and landscape
- How to present the time axis on a report
- How to use “white space” intelligently
- How to use visual cues to highlight important data points
- How to line up numbers to visually stand out
- How to choose the unit of measure to present numbers to add meaning and clarity
- How to make intelligent choices in terms of what to show and what not to
- How to avoid common pitfalls such as presenting variance in the wrong format
- How to use dollar signs more effectively
- How to create more effective charts and graphs
- How many digits to show
- How to make a great balance sheet that is decision-focused and usable acorss an Enterprise
- How to design effective dashboards
- How to understand and present key indicators more effectively
Insightful and Actionable Advice
What I like about Randall’s advice is that it’s specific and actionable. He artfully sprinkled “The Deadly Sins of Presenting Numbers” and “Strong Advice” throughout his book to drive the main points home and to make it easy for you to build personal checklists.
He is prescriptive and direct. For example, he will say you should right justify columns of numbers, or that you should wrap problem variances so negative numbers can be picked at a glance. He even injects career tips, such as …
“Even if you truly believe that you are a ‘visual person,’ think twice before saying this in public. Your listeners may instead be hearing you state that you don’t understand how to process quantitative information or that you don’t want to go to much effort. To those listeners, it’s as if you were saying, ‘Don’t give me too many big words to read.’”
To win in the game of life, this is a new book to add to your shelf. Whether you’re a business person person, starting your own business, moving up in your career, or simply want to make more meaning from the numbers you see everyday and everywhere, this book is the key to improving your ability to presenting numbers with skill.