If you were given a choice between listening to a 30-minute list of statistics, and listening to a 30-minute story, which would you choose? The answer is fairly obvious as there’s a pretty solid chance that at some point today you’ll consume a 30-minute story, whether through reading, listening, or watching.
Our lives revolve around stories–– the stories we consume and participate in, the stories we tell ourselves in order to understand the world, the stories we tell ourselves in order to understand ourselves, and on and on. If storytelling is so present in our daily lives, why would we exclude them when we speak about statistics? Here are a few reasons why statistics and stories should be bonded completely to one another.
The best thing about using stories to disseminate statistics is that stories promote conversation rather than solicit an automatic judgment. If you present your audience with a statistic, they have one of two options: to agree or to disagree. And if they disagree with you, they’re likely to completely turn off and tune out for the rest of your presentation. But if you place that statistic smartly into a story, you give the audience room to relate to your story, to participate in conversation with that story.
A story also encourages the audience to feel something toward a statistic. While statistics are heartless and dispassionate, stories are emotional and compelling. They tempt the audience to feel this and express that, they inspire and most important, they help incite action.
Be One Step Ahead
Another way of looking at the bond between storytelling and statistics is that if you do nothing to place your statistics into a story, your audience will do it for you. People always place information into the context of a story, whether consciously or unconsciously. It’s simply how we respond to incoming stimuli. We all come loaded with preexisting information, biases and judgments, and when presented with new information, we attribute all that established knowledge to it.
Take control of where your audience’s minds go during your presentation. If you present a cumbersome statistic by itself, your audience will have a multitude of differing responses. They won’t have a collective, similar experience of the statistic. But, if you present that stat in the context of a compelling story, they’ll respond in a similar fashion because you’ve given them the framework in which to place it.
Don’t Underestimate the Potential
Consider all the stories you tell yourself on a daily basis. Maybe you walked past a homeless person on the way to work this morning. What did you tell yourself about his life? Did you assume that he lost his job in the Recession? Did you imagine what happened to his family and friends? We tell ourselves stories in order to live. If we aren’t given a story in which to place new information, we’ll create one for ourselves.
Storytelling is the most effective way to get people to understand, remember and embrace new information. Think of the recent presidential debates–– what people remember from those are the stories the candidates tell, not the enigmatic statistics presented. The bond between statistics and storytelling is undeniable. Make the most of the connection in your next presentation.