Think about the last time you listened to a presentation that had a lot of statistics in it. For instance, student test data. Now think about how much of that data you actually remember.
Chances are, you don’t remember too much. You may have remembered the gist of the presentation, you may have remembered the setting, but chances are the actual data is lost to your memory.
Now think about the last time you heard someone tell you a story as part of a presentation. A keynote perhaps, telling about how they struggled through poverty as a child, or overcame adversity, or a funny story that made you laugh.
Chances are here that you actually remember the presentation with the story better than you remembered the presentation with the statistics.
Take a moment to watch “Persuasion and the Power of Story” by Jennifer Aaker.
Aaker, a professor of Marketing at Stanford has some interesting things to say there don’t you think? One of my take aways is that story trumps data when trying to get people to understand a topic.
Story trumps data.
I thought about that when I thought about how schools present information to their parents and teachers. Often, they present just the raw statistics: Our school had this many pass the test. This many were exemplary, this many failed.
Indeed, in Texas, the yearly school reports that the state makes about each campus is called a “report card.” Statistics fill the report card. It is not very memorable and I suspect you would be hard pressed to find a parent that even can remember getting one, even though they go out to every parent in the state.
Harldy ever is there a story attached to that data. Yet, Aaker would tell us that without story, the data gets lost in the background noise.
Stories need to be woven into the data in order for the audience to become connected to it. “When data and stories are used together, they resonate with audiences on both an intellectual and emotional level.”
The power of the story is that the audience can personalize the story to themselves. (This has to do more with how the brain is wired than how the heart is wired, but suffice to say that without story, the audience remains detached from the data.)
So how can we present data in such a way that it might be meaningful using story?
Can stories be added to data?
I once heard about a school that had a “War Room” where all of the student data was posted on the wall. Teachers and administrators would use the “war Room” as a planning place to address student needs based on al of the posted data. Where the students were, where they need to go. The data was just that: points of information on charts and tables hung up on walls. Teachers would come in, look at the charts, and then leave.
The administration was wondering how to make the data more meaningful. How could we connect the numbers to the teachers in such a way that they would have an emotional attachment to the data? That is where story came in.
The principal decided that the teachers needed to understand that the data was more than just points on a graph. She exchanged the points of data with the actual student pictures.
Teachers began to see the STORY of the students instead of just the points when the picture of the student was placed with the data.
All of a sudden, the story and the data came together. Teachers began talking about the STORY of the student once the picture was , not just talking about the excuses of why the student failed or passed. The power of the story took over once the story, the students that they knew, replaced the nameless faceless points on a graph.
The power of storytelling is evident even in business. Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind wrote ” Story represents a pathway to understanding that doesn’t run through the left side of the brain.” In other words, the creative emotional portion of the brain makes a connection with a story.
In their book “Made To Stick" the Heath brothers spend a considerable amount of time speaking about using stories in order to make information "Sticky." They use the story of Subway’s Jared, a man who lost over 200 pounds on a diet of Subway sandwiches. His story was much more real, had much more emotion, much more "sticky" than the original marketing that Subway used where they just said they had 6 sandwiches with 7 grams or less of fat (6 under 7).
“Brain Rules,” author John Medina says “When the brain detects an emotionally charged event, the Amygdala releases dopamine into the system. Because dopamine greatly aids memory and information processing, you could say it creates a Post-It note that reads, ‘Remember this.’
Storytelling is the post-it note for the brain. If you want something to stick, you need to add a story to it.
A good administrator will not only just present the date to their faculty, but also create the story that goes with them. Why is it important the Joe pass the test? What happens if he doesn’t? How does that affect him, his family, his future? What story does Joe have that we can help him with?
Stories are of course not the only way to present information, but they are a powerful tool, especially if you are trying to provide information that you want retained over a long time.