Communicating Statistics: Gripping Advice from Fast Company
Making sense of data and statistics is not just a matter of being clear and precise, nor is it just a matter of keeping things simple (though all of these are important). To make numbers really compelling, we need to relate them to people’s experiences. If we want our audience to grasp the importance of a number intuitively, then we need to link it to what they already know really well.
Dan Heath and Chip Heath, authors of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die offered good insights about “gripping statistics” in a recent issue of Fast Company. They argue that if you’re trying to communicate the magnitude of the budget deficit or the financial system bailout, you shouldn’t talk about laying dollar bills end to end and circling the solar system. Why not? Because one non-intuitive idea isn’t helped by comparing it to another non-intuitive idea. Instead, relate it to the average cost per household, and then report how many months it will take you, dear reader, to pay it off before having any money left for yourself.
They illustrate with a few more excellent examples (we encourage you to read the article — it is refreshingly brief) and conclude with this eloquent statement:
“A good statistic is one that aids a decision or shapes an opinion. For a stat to do either of those, it must be dragged within the everyday. That’s your job — to do the dragging. In our world of billions and trillions, that can be a lot of manual labor. But it’s worth it: A number people can grasp is a number that can make a difference.”
We would only add that at Versta Research, dragging your data into the everyday is our job. Give us a call and we’ll help you make your research more compelling and intuitive to your manager and to your audiences. We’ll help you make a difference.
—Joe Hopper, Ph.D.