How To Use Numbers To Tell Your Story



“A good decision is based on knowledge and not on numbers. “


Numbers in themselves lack the ability to create an emotional connection with your audience. To connect with your audience on an emotional basis you need to craft a story they will want to hear.


The best ways to use numbers in storytelling are:


1. Find The Story Behind The Numbers

Numbers by their very nature are hard to interpret and understand, never mind about finding the underlying story. Ask yourself what does the data mean and what impact will it have on your audience. When you can answer this question you will start to find out what the story is. Only when you can tell the story behind the data will it change the way your audience see the world.


2. Find Out How To Hook Your Audience

Numbers that tell stories can get your audience’s attention. I remember once being at a seminar about Smartphone usage and being told billions of people were now using Smartphone’s, an interesting statement that did not grab my attention. However when the speaker put a slide of a toothbrush on the screen and told us there were now more Smartphone’s in the world than tooth brushes they immediately got my attention.

Numbers only really work when you can use them to grab your audience’s attention.


3. Isolate The Most Important Data

To succeed with your storytelling your audience needs to to understand the story. This is why you need to isolate the most important data you have when telling your story. Use the data that makes it easiest for the user to understand the story. Naturally you need to respect the data and not skew the data just to make it easier to understand.


4. Carefully Consider Your Visual Imagery

Data presentation and storytelling requires the use of visual imagery. Choose visual imagery that simplifies your story without compromising the data. Take time to try different visual presentation styles and ask your peers to review and test them.


5. Original Thinking

Telling data driven stories requires creative thinking. You do not want to be the 10,000th person who uses a bar chart to tell the story about your sales improvement. Think of ways to show your sales data in ways that your audience has not seen before and therefore are more likely to remember it.


Humanising The Data


“Someone told me that each equation I included in the book would halve the sales.”

Stephen Hawking


Your audience needs you to humanize the data. They want to know what it means for them and what they should do about it. To do this they need to understand the story behind the data. Your audience wants to know they can trust the data and the data patterns they are presented with, and that they reflect the reality of the story they are being told. Data is only a tool that makes sense of an enormous sea of facts that are being collected about how we live our lives and the world around us. The stories these numbers represent need to be told and understood.