What Does It Mean: The Story Behind the Numbers

21 December 2021 12:30

The Story Behind the Numbers

Numbers are a great asset to any piece of communication because they lend validity to your claims. By their nature, numbers and data are straight forward. One is always one; two is always two. One plus two is always three. Right?

Well… that depends. As with the written or spoken word, data can be interpreted differently by different people. Without context, insight, proper analysis and/or deconstruction into what they mean, numbers or data that seem significant to one group of people may be completely insignificant to another—and vice versa.

So how can you ensure your data delivers meaning to your target audience? Here are three ways to properly analyze numerical data to tell your story your way.

Data Isolation for Your Audience’s Needs

You may have heard the phrase, “Numbers make things real.” And it’s true! Data can be a great asset to any communicator, because it lends validity to your claims.

On the other hand, it can be tempting to just throw handfuls of data at audiences to see what sticks. But in fact, this can be detrimental to your storytelling goal. To be successful, your audience needs to understand the story you are telling.

First, think about the audience—do they even care about this information? When using numbers to tell a story, practice the restraint of reporting what’s most impactful to your reader or listener. To help you decide what matters most to your audience, remember the acronym WIIFM: what’s in it for me.

Think about how you can report outcomes instead of outputs. It’s the difference between reporting a vanity metric—say, total impressions of a media placement—versus something a bit stickier, such as total comments on media story or visits to your website after a national TV segment.

Second, remember to play back your numbers in language your intended audience understands. Let’s say you’re presenting to a boardroom of C-suite level executives. This group—being so ingrained in the organization, its bottom line and its shareholder expectations—will likely want more hard-hitting, in-depth information. When presenting data to this group, use the language of business; tie back to objectives, KPIs, ROI, P&L, and other metrics that matter most to the bottom line.

To be successful, your audience needs to understand the story you are telling.

Visualize Whenever Possible

The sheer amount of information collected by data analysis is astronomical. Therefore, it is important that people have a way to interpret the information they are given. When it comes to copious amounts of data or complex numbers, the written word is not always the best way to go. That is where data visualization comes in.

Providing information through data maps, graphs, or charts can make all the difference between an “aha!” moment and a blank stare. All these visual elements help the brain process information faster. Perhaps even more important, visualizations can help identify trends, patterns, and outliers that can be easy to miss when looking at an endless spreadsheet of numbers. By visualizing numbers or datasets, you not only make it easier for your story to be told, but you can also make your analysis more efficient and effective.

There are services like Nexis Newsdesk, which allows users to track and analyze media information in real time through a variety of graphs, charts, word clouds, and more. These visualizations can then be downloaded and used for storytelling purposes.

Build the Story Around the Data

Are you a data analyst or a data storyteller? Storytellers use numbers to tell the story they want to tell. Telling a data-driven story requires one to develop a narrative filled with context, nuance and purpose. After all, which would you rather read: another article that simply recycles the same factoids over and over, or one that explains why the data is what it is. Simply presenting data is not enough; storytellers know how to make numbers compelling.

Of course, at Nexis Newsdesk, we believe in the power of data to not only report findings, but to tell a story, generate an insight and create a flashpoint for future action. To learn more about how we deliver powerful data—and help you jump from analysis to insight—request a free demo here.

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