First time guest of #LearnFromTED is Hans Rosling, albeit not a new acquaintance on my site. I show clips from his presentations in my Successful Presentation and I mentioned in few posts: talking about laser pointers or how to make data cool. This time we’ll see him in action to learn how to effectively drive home a point.

First of all who was Hans Rosling? A versatile character with many abilities and activities (and also some controversial optimism about the world’s future). I love how Amardeo Sarma described him: “able to bring data to life”. This is also the focal point, how to present a topic like statistics (and demography) in an effective way to drive home a point. Rosling talent wasn’t only to entertain the audience with vivid presentation, his great gift was to make data easy to read for everyone and visualise the message they carry on more than one level. He also made us think again on common assumptions or beliefs that are wrong.

Let’s see this presentation delivered in Cannes (France) where he shows a correlation between population, average income and country development.

Have you enjoyed it? What has caught your attention in his way of presenting data?

The opening is direct and note how there’s no introduction of himself just a personal anecdote.

I still remember the day in school when our teacher told us that the world population had become three billion people, and that was in 1960.

The recollection is contextual, the subject is world population. Immediately after he states the topic of his talk.

I‘m going to talk now about how world population has changed from that year and into the future

Precise and effective. To another speaker I’d have suggested to add something to spark more interest from the audience, Rosling doesn’t need it. He does it just after.

but I will not use digital technology, as I’ve done during my first five TEDTalks. Instead, I have progressed, and I am, today, launching a brand new analogue teaching technology that I picked up from IKEA: this box.

Please observe his reference to previous talks. The message is “this one will be different”, don’t think you already know what’s coming. Then the twist of the Ikea boxes, that makes even more sense considering he’s Swedish (later he’ll talk also about Volvo).

“Why the box?” wonders the audience? They don’t have to wait for the answer.

This box contains one billion people.

Extremely simple to grasp, a box represents a billion people. At the same time is an original way of conveying the message and catches people’s imagination making it easier to remember.

First important lesson, to be successful in making a concept tangible fantasy can be more useful than budget. How could you emulate Hans in your presentations?

Look then how he introduces the green boxes that stand for non-industrialised world and how he keeps them far from the blue, the most natural way of showing the distance between those two worlds.

And they lived away then. There was a big gap between the one billion in the industrialized world and the two billion in the developing world.

Just after follow another incisive visualisation, the car as the aspirational object for the “blue world” and a pair of shoes for the “green one”. Even if food is the first need for the developing world the shoes are used here, and they work better because they work well with the car.

Here is the end of the opening and the central theme of talk is better described.

And this gap between the West and the rest has created a mindset of the world, which we still use linguistically when we talk about “the West” and “the Developing World.” But the world has changed, and it’s overdue to upgrade that mindset and that taxonomy of the world, and to understand it.

From 2:15 we are in the body of the talk where Rosling’s message is presented and supported by data. New boxes comes into play and also some quips. Humour should always be coherent with the topic at hand and so it is.

And what happened a month ago was that the Chinese company, Geely, they acquired the Volvo company, and then finally the Swedes understood that something big had happened in the world.

I would like you to take a picture at 5:52, here is the world representation (his message) made with few boxes, two colours and transportation models. Now think about how you could have achieved the same using slides or projecting numeric data. Which one do you think engages better the public and let the idea resonate with them?

From here on there are a some statements and some future predictions (the talk happened in 2010). At this point Rosling successfully managed to grasp the interest of the audience and to get his idea across. Now he can use data more complex (minute 6:30) for the public is more willing to follow along and to put the information provided in the right context albeit they are not experts like the speaker.

After the visual and technical explanation of the idea there’s a beautiful sentence that captures his solution to the problem.

Child survival is the new green.

We can stop at nine billion if we do the right things. Child survival is the new green. It’s only by child survival that we will stop population growth.

We are getting close to the conclusion that plays on different tones. The first one is the incentive to change.

It can be done. We can have a much more just world.

Even here you can listen to the vocal emphasis in this passage.

The speaker wards off a latent objection typical in this scenarios: we cannot do it, it’s too difficult, is beyond our capabilities. If you want to motivate your audience to an action you need to instil enthusiasm and show them that there is a successful possible outcome. Furthermore you have to dismantle any possible doubt or disapproval and with them the temptation to go the easy way which, most of the times, is doing nothing or keeping the status quo. Hans address it openly.

And look at the position of the old West. Remember when this blue box was all alone, leading the world, living its own life. This will not happen.

It also builds on the previous example of Volvo acquired by an emerging economy.

I love the last sentence because is simple but very vivid. It has to be linked to the previous two.

The role of the old West in the new world is to become the foundation of the modern world — nothing more, nothing less. But it’s a very important role. Do it well and get used to it.

“Do it well and get used to it” works a charm because it is in his style. A pompous closing or one too emphatic would clash with the speech just delivered. This one has almost a paternal tone, still it contains an imperative (“Do it well”) and a final exhortation (“get used to it”) with a double meaning: “it has to be your new way of being” and at the same time “you better get used to it because there are no other (good) options”.

Unfortunately Hans Rosling died few years ago, he left us with this great lesson on how to drive home a point and how to make an abstract and intangible subject comprehensible to all. Luckily this is not the only one, there are other TEDtalks from him and other videos where you can learn from Rosling how to be successful when pubic speaking and delve into fascinating insights on our world.