How to Tell a Story Using… Numbers (Part 1)

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Last time, we talked about how you can use sounds to give your stories that special bang (😉). If you haven’t read that post yet, check that out here! This week, we’ll be talking about how you can use numbers in your stories. Keep an eye out for future installments in this series!

 

When they are used properly, statistics can make an impression on your audience. When they aren’t, they can bore your audience and take the focus away from your main points. So, the question is…how can you present your numbers in an engaging, fun way?

 

Well, one thing you should always do leading up to your main point in your story is set the scene. Introduce your characters, paint the background, and describe the time everything is taking place. The same thing applies to using numbers in your presentation! 

 

When you’re preparing to give an informative speech and you find a shocking statistic, you can use it in your opening. A particularly surprising number can be a hook in itself. But in the context of telling a story, numbers may seem a little  counterintuitive. Don’t be fooled; they’re a surprisingly underrated tool that you should consider adding to your arsenal.

 

Here are my top 5 ways to make numbers in your storytelling more appealing:

  • Turn your data-loaded lecture into a compelling story. Having a ton of data at your fingertips, a speech to give in a few days, and a blank page in front of you is a nerve-wracking state to be in. One great way to present information is in the form of a story. After all, our lives are sort of stories in themselves! What better way is there to make an impact on your audience? 
  • Here’s an example: Imagine you were giving a school presentation about how video chat companies thrived after the pandemic began. Set the scene like you would for a story! “It was March 2020, and the world had just shut down. People were nervous, confused, and scared for the future. When would they be able to see their friend again? How would they go to work or drop their kids off at school? They needed a quick, easy way to connect with their loved ones. Along came Zoom, a relatively unknown video chat service that allowed people to connect with the tap of a link. Their revenue exploded in the months after the shelter-in-place order, with numbers climbing from around $300 million to over $1 billion.”
  • Help your audience picture your numbers. Try visualizing all your statistics. Can you picture them in your head? If not, your audience probably won’t be able to either. Instead of just saying a boring number, try painting an image in your audience’s heads. 
  • For example, rather than saying, “The average American ate 1,996 pounds of food in 2011.; you can instead say, “The average American ate almost a ton of food in 2011. That’s as much as a baby elephant weighs!”
  • Round your numbers up (but clarify that you did so!). If the numbers you have written down are uninspiring, your audience will probably forget them as soon as you’ve said them. To make the numbers more memorable to the audience, round them up to a cleaner number.
  •  For example, make figures like “498,987” into “almost 500,000”. There are certain exceptions, of course. In instances where you are expected to give exact figures, do not beat around the bush while trying to make them more appealing.
  • Use pictures and graphics! By using a chart or a graph to display your data, you will ensure that your audience not only pays attention to your points, but remembers them long after your speech. You can often find great infographics and charts on the Internet, but you can customize the presentation of your data by making your own chart!
      • There are many different tools you can use to create your own pictures and graphics. Here are some of my favorites:
        • Canva (This is amazing  for creating simple, powerful infographics!)
        • Google Slides (You may already be using this tool to create your slideshow, it may come as a surprise that the built-in features include the ability to make your own graphs and charts.)
        • Adobe Spark Graph Maker (This is a great way to create colorful, engaging graphs and charts – no account required!)
  • Simplify the numbers as much as possible. When you make a graphic, you don’t want it to be cluttered. A simple graphic will highlight your data more powerfully than a cluttered one will. Any time you can cut down on the amount of symbols being presented in your slide, do so! 
    • Here’s an example I made using Canva!

Mastering the art of using numbers to make a point can come in handy when giving speeches of any breed: persuasive, informative, or entertaining. The next time you write or tell a story, think about whether you could use any of these methods to add some interesting numbers into your speech.

By now, you probably know the drill! Next week, we’ll be going over part 2 of this same topic: storytelling with numbers. Then we’ll move on to the next installment in this series, where I’ll go over another tool you can use in storytelling speeches! See you next time. 🙂

Other resources: 

  • https://youtu.be/i6teBcfKpik This Ted-Ed video is packed with numbers! Listen closely to just the first minute of the video and you’ll hear 3 numbers:
    • “10% of our global crop production”
    • “99% of cultivated corn”
    • “9,000 years ago”
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1 thought on “How to Tell a Story Using… Numbers (Part 1)”

  1. Pingback: How to Tell a Story Using… Numbers (Part 2) – Bold Speaker

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