Just how much/many/far/big is that, though?

Say you’re presenting some information about a country and you say something like, “The population of Tokyo is 13.62 million people, as of July 2016.” Great, fine. But what does it mean? How does it compare to other cities? Can we think of it in other terms that help us imagine just how many people that is?

Here’s one way of looking at the Greater Tokyo area in terms of U.S. cities. That’s a comparison that works well for someone like me who is familiar with both.

Or you could say that 13.6 million is the same number of people that have been displaced by the wars in Iraq and Syria, as of 2014 (according to the UNHCR). The number has of course risen in the past two years. This will give you some more updated info on Syria.

Maybe you want to talk about New York City’s Central Park and are trying to emphasize just how big it is:


Maybe you want to show just how long the Great Wall of China is. Google tells me it’s about 8,850 km (that’s the Ming Dynasty part; the whole thing is more like 21,000 km, officially). And this site tells me that’s about the same distance as it is from Tokyo to LA. And that’s a 9 or 10 hour flight:



Or maybe you’re dealing with time. Here’s a video that tries to help us understand what 4.5 billion years (the estimated age of the earth) looks like:

The point is that when you try to explain something with numbers, especially really big numbers, or the size of things, you need to make it understandable and interesting to your audience. Find some way to compare it to something they know, so that you get reactions like smiles and 「へぇぇぇ」 instead of yawns and 「で?」.

Big ideas

Here’s the TED link and a YouTube link (with subtitles) for this talk.

Which research project or presentation would you rather hear about?

“Star Wars”

“I Like ‘Star Wars'”

“‘Star Wars’ Is A Metaphor for …”

Only the third one has (potentially) a “big idea”. I want your research projects and presentations to be about a big idea.

Read about this last big idea here (which is actually 6 different ideas):

“‘Star Wars’ Is Really About Feminism. And Jefferson. And Jesus.” (from Bloomberg)

Whether or not you find any of these ideas persuasive is a different matter. At least they are ideas.

You can get your big ideas from research. And then develop them with your own ideas.