Stats are the spice; they are not the story

    If you’re anything like me, you’ve seen a lot of powerpoints, mailers and posters with a big honking graph front and center. If you’re anything like most people, that giant graph is a little difficult to take in. Now, I’ve waded through my share of data before and I certainly know the allure of graphs and tables (just ask my advisor, who had to leaf through over ten pages of revenue change tables in my masters research). It can be incredibly tricky to highlight the numbers that are supposed to tell the story of your success in an elegant way. As tempting as it is to put your numbers front and center, to do so is a disservice to them and you.

    Using numbers and graphics in any public-facing medium is a lot like using onions in cooking: the right amount enhances the experience, but use too much and that’s all you can taste. Because when you get down to it, the numbers are not the star of your story. That role is already filled by your mission and your work. Instead, your stats play an important supporting role.

    What should be front and center is the story that makes your work compelling. This can be the tale of your founding, a compelling client story, anything that illustrates succinctly why your work is important. Personal stories resonate more than large-scale ones, and remember that passion is much more infectious than information. Anything that you prepare for public consumption should more closely resemble a narrative than a report. We’re storytelling creatures, after all, and framing your work in this way makes is more digestible and will make your audience care about it more.

    Stats, graphs and numerical evidence give your story weight. They lend credibility to what you’re saying. They deepen the impact that your story can have on audiences, so you should use them accordingly. Highlight your mission, the needs of your constituents, your successes—then use stats to back that up.