The Two Math Problems All Communicators Should Know How to Solve

I’ve never met a communicator who likes math.

“I never signed up for this,” we chuckle, when asked to perform a simple calculation.

“No one told me there would be numbers,” we laugh nervously.

It’s time to stop. this. madness. A strong command of words and a strong command of numbers doesn’t have to be negatively correlated.

Why communicators need numbers

Tracking certain metrics allows you to skillfully analyze and assign value to what otherwise may be seen as strictly qualitative data. From content marketing to corporate communication, engagement is all about the end-user. Quantitative analysis allows you to set benchmarks and measure your success in areas like engagement against previous performance. Mastering just two common percentage problems will help strengthen your career and reputation as a communicator.

1. How to find a percentage of a number

You’re running your first Town Hall meeting. The decks were flawless, your speakers energetic, and the crowd receptive. A follow-up survey brings in 174 comments — mostly good, but a few not so great. 32, to be exact. You’re discussing the numbers with your new quantitative-loving boss. “What percent of comments were negative?” he asks.

Don’t panic! Grab some scrap paper (and your iPhone’s calculator) and set that equation UP. So that’s:

32 is what % of 174?

Now, I know there’s something you can do with decimal points to figure this out. I just never remember what to do when I need it most. If you have an easier trick, please email me. If you’re just as confused by decimals as I am, read on.

I love the proportion set-up. The right side is always % over 100. The left side is the number you’re working with over the total. Use the 100 to cross multiply, then divide that top number by the bottom number. Round if necessary. Boom. You have a percentage.

So you go back to your boss and tell him, “18% were negative. Less than a quarter of all comments! Not too bad.”

2. How to find percent change

The next quarter comes and it’s time to put on a Town Hall all over again. You receive 174 comments again, but this time only 4 of them are negative. Great work! You know your boss is going to ask, so you work a little of your cross-multiple & divide magic. Only about 2% of comments were negative this time!

But of course your number-loving notable throws you a curveball.

“Nice. So what exactly is the percent increase in positive comments since the last Town Hall?” And good on him for asking. Numbers don’t lie in a board meeting.

So, let’s figure it out. Both meetings received 174 comments.

Meeting 1: 174 – 32 negative comments = 142 positive comments. This is your old number.

Meeting 2: 174 – 4 negative comments = 170 positive comments. This is your new number.


Voila! You’ve achieved a 20% increase in positive feedback in one quarter. Good work!

Putting numbers to work

For job-seekers, adding numbers can strengthen a resume. This article from The Muse makes a great case for adding small quantitative details that make a big difference.

How do you incorporate numbers into your communications work? Do you use the same methods as I do for solving problems in a pinch, or do you swear by a spreadsheet? Is there an easier way out there? I want to know!

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