Practical data storytelling tip #3 : A number says, I am zero without a story and hero with a story..

This is Blog 3 of my Practical Tips on Data Storytelling blog series.

In the First Blog we focused on the point you are trying to make via data storytelling.

In the Second Blog we focused on the importance of building credibility.

In this blog I will focus on how we can move from numbers/data to meaning.

So, lets get started,

Numbers are like key messages – distilled information with no context. Sadly, on their own they can’t tell a story.

What caused the number to peak or drop ? What is it in comparison to another number?

Now, imagine leaving this poor number on its own to an individual to interpret it. The importance of this number drops and it becomes a zero ( not literally ), or you can explain the patterns, anomalies, and trends by accompanying it with a story and the number becomes a hero.

Here are a couple of good examples on how you can make a number a hero versus a zero.

Explain the grandness or minuteness 

We casually throw a number around, for example  ” Our facility is 255,000 square feet large “. This is a classic example of a number just thrown but if you say “Our facility is 255,000 square feet which is as big as four football fields ” You have now explained the grandness of scale by contrasting it with items of familiar sizes.

I notice this being particularly a problem when business professionals talk like this,  we have been around for 38 years, we have 36,000 employees in 26 different companies. The question that goes through my mind is – So what?

Compare it with something 

Numbers can be mysterious unless you compare them to numbers of similar value in a different context.

Here is a great example of Intel’s CEO Paul Otellini’s 2010 CES Presentation:

“Today we have the industry’s first-shipping 32-nanometer process technology. A 32-nanometer microprocessor is 5,000 times faster; its transistors are 100,000 times cheaper than the 4004 processor that we began with. With all respect to our friends in the auto industry, if their products had produced the same kind of innovation, cars today would go 470,000 miles per hour. They’d get 100,000 miles per gallon and they’d cost three cents. We believe that these advances in technology are bringing us into a new era of computing.”

Telling the story of the number makes it a hero versus a zero

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