Dramatic Data

We are often asked how to make a data-heavy message more memorable.  Here are 3 storytelling devices to get you started…


Be Selective

One number well contextualised is worth an army of lesser numbers. Take Jamie Oliver’s powerful opening statement from his famous Ted Talk ‘Teach Every Child About Food’:

“By the end of this presentation, 4 Americans that are alive now will be dead through the food they eat.”

Here, Jamie is using the storytelling technique of a dramatic hook to catch our attention with a single number.  

Help the Audience to Visualise the Number

Instead of using a graph, try painting pictures with words. The charity Oxfam makes plentiful use of visual analogy in their current campaign Second-Hand September - aimed at getting people to recycle and re-use clothing. 

According to their research, the carbon footprint of the new clothes industry in the UK is “equivalent to driving a car from London to the Costa del Sol every second” or “flying a plane around the world 900 times per week”.

The carbon footprint itself is a big number, but the image is familiar, recognisable and easy to remember.


Create Suspense

Numbers are often presented as long lists of figures on slides with too much detail and it’s easy for us to switch off. Try to create an appetite for the number. There are many ways to create suspense using narrative but perhaps the simplest is a rhetorical question followed by that great storytelling device - a pause.

‘How much did U.S. shoppers spend online on the 2017 Black Friday Sales?’ PAUSE for effect.

‘5 Billion US Dollars.’

‘How much did we save last year by implementing the Helios project?’ PAUSE for effect.

Deliver the number.

You get the idea.

So… Selection, Visualisation, Suspense. Three tools to make your data a bit more dramatic and impactful. And don’t forget the Power of 3 itself - the magic number used so often in comedy, rhetoric and yes, you’ve guessed it – stories!  Give these techniques a try and your data may never be dull again.

Dramatic Resources