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57% of my friends said something that shocked me about statistics

Updated: Oct 21, 2022

I asked 41 people on Instagram and Linkedin (removing duplicates) what was more convincing to them, storytelling or statistics. What I found was 57% of people said they were persuaded by statistics over storytelling, which surprised me because I thought storytelling would win by a landslide.

My findings didn’t match what I had read about the emotionally engaging power of stories and their power in memory design. I was also surprise because if there’s one thing we know about statistics, it’s that they lie as much as the people who write them, and I was surprised people would admit to being persuaded by snapshots of information without context. At first I thought they were lying to themselves about what actually changes their behaviour, but I've come to realise I am biased by what I think I already know.

Of course, there’s a third option that I didn’t put on the poll, which is a combination of both storytelling and statistics. It felt too easy to put that as an option, so I had people choose, and I’m glad it did. The answers left me with ten questions I've put at the end of this article around storytelling, statistics and behaviour change I’ll be exploring over the next ten weeks to hopefully reach a better conclusion on how you can create memorable and persuasive speeches that create long-term behaviour change.

Why did I ask the question in the first place?

When I was at One Young World last week, I watched some of the most competent field experts in the world on stage. I paid attention to how the crowd reacted, and I paid attention to what I remembered because I want to understand what makes a good public speech beyond engagement, posture, and tone of voice.

I’ve realised that what I am looking for, is to understand the ingredients in a speech that could actually change a person.

I noticed that the big stats got big applause when showing a positive impact, but I can’t remember a single project that was talked about off the top of my head. I noticed I didn’t remember the exact numbers, but when shocking stats used proved a point, I remembered the problem. When stories were told in conjunction with traditional rhetoric, I remembered key quotes, and the stories themselves.

Why I don't remember much