Which of the following would you keep reading?
- ≈37% of a Consultant’s day is spent doing project management, 22% is spent on meetings, 4% is spent on email…
- By 10:00 am, Stephanie felt like her entire morning had been gobbled up by never-ending email strings and conference calls. She sighed deeply and picked up the phone…
You probably picked the second one. Why? Because we, as humans, love stories.
A Real Example
In tech companies, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the numbers: up time, response time, delivery time, number of customers, number of press mentions, number of support tickets, percent of profit increase, percent of time utilized, percent of repeat purchases, and on and on. It’s great for analyzing and keeping a department, heck, an entire company, on track. But numbers can’t engage your audience like a story does.
A great example of this is an article my former colleague recently wrote regarding rare childhood diseases entitled: “No Child Left Undiagnosed.”
The data says that 1 in 10 Americans have a known rare disease. Think about that for a second. Picture in your mind 10 people – perhaps your family with some aunts, uncles, and cousins (or half your family if you are the Duggars) – and then picture one of them having a rare disease.
It’s a staggering thought, but only giving a statistic forces the reader to stop and make a mental picture, or gloss over it entirely.
Instead, the article takes a different route:
“Have there been successes [in personalized medicine]? Undoubtedly. Though sadly, stories such as that of Gina Szajnuk’s are far too common.
Gina Szajnuk is the mother of three children, whom along with their mother share a rare genetic condition characterized as autonomic neuropathy, which has yet to be fully understood to the point that a precision treatment can be administered…
Gina’s journey is a familiar one for parents of children with a rare disease… countless doctors visits spanning the continent trying to find that single specialist who can help; years battling with insurance execs who routinely deny coverage for the latest medical advances; tubs of medical records physically carried from hospital to hospital for staff to arduously scan into a local electronic medical record (EMR) system that is blind to the fact that these same documents have undergone the same treatment at every hospital visited prior…
Gina and her family (pictured) are not alone. They represent the 1 in 10 Americans who have one of 7,000 known rare diseases, 75% of which are undiagnosed, and half of which are children for whom there is no treatment.
But Gina is not content with representing a statistic. She is a parental crusader, seeking access to [genetic] data that’s seldom shared and empowerment that many of us aspire to but fail to attain... She is not waiting for a broken healthcare system to be fixed by a bold new initiative. She is taking matters into her own hands, literally.”
Can you picture Gina lugging that tub of medical records from doctor-to-doctor, hospital-to-hospital? Do you empathize with her? Do you emotionally connect with her story in a way you couldn’t with a statistic? I do.
Why? The power of a story.
How to Craft a Story
Okay, you have a piece of data – a number, a statistic, a result. Now what? Here’s some resources to get you started on crafting a story:
5 Rules for Turning Data Into Insights and Stories
By Kristin Kover at http://www.clickz.com
- “Make it real” – Compare it to something the audience knows and is concrete in their mind.
- “Context is king” – Answer the question: why should your audience care?
- “It’s all in the details” – Details help your readers shape the events in their mind, like a good book.
- “Find the nugget” – What is the one thing you want people to remember? What’s your lede?
- “No asterisks” – The data should require no additional explanations, no difficulty to understand, and no open-to-interpretation.
Finding a Story Worksheets
By the Connection Lab and Rahul Bhargava at https://datatherapy.wordpress.com
According to the Data Therapy blog (part of the MIT Center for Civic Media’s Data Therapy project), there are five types of data stories:
- "Factoid story" – What is one fact that stands out from the rest and why?
- "Interaction story" – Two (or more) pieces of data that “interact” in some way, i.e. correlation (doesn’t infer causation).
- "Comparison story" – Two (or more) pieces of data that can be “compared” to each other.
- "Change story" – What did the data say before and what does it say now?
- "Personal story" – Relate the data to a personal experience.
The blog offers descriptions on each as well as simplistic worksheets to help you get brainstorming on the type of story you want to tell.
How to Turn Your Data Into Stories
By Shannon Ramlochan at http://www.prnewswire.com/blog
- “Answer the ‘so what?’” – Why should people care?
- “Good stories are brief, true, engage an emotion, end on a high note, and are told in the present tense” – Aim to tell a good story.
- “Incorporate figurative language” – Use metaphors.
- “Visualize your story” – For maximum effect, base your story around a visual.
To conclude, I leave you with a video by Jennifer Aaker, a Stanford University Professor, who says that stories are engaging because they are meaningful, impactful, and personal (“Future of StoryTelling 2013: Persuasion and the Power of Story”):
Storytelling is a powerful tool in the marketer's toolbox. Don't rely on data to tell the story of your tech company when you can do so much more.