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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

Keep in mind that I only went to the talks I was interested in, and I still don't remember much - maybe because I haven't used the information since. The conference has an online system I can go back to, but I’m really busy, and I’m only going to rewatch the speeches that give me information I need for what I’m already doing in my day-to-day life.

When speaking publicly to a new group, being remembered is important if you want people to change. They'll only remember you if you find a way to stay relevant to them, which means you have to sell them on more than your idea, you have to sell them on you. I formed a hypothesis during the conference that stories were more persuasive than statistics because I remembered them and the speakers themselves better.

Then I polled 41 people on social media.

The questions I want answers to

  1. What do people want?

  2. What persuades us to change behaviour?

  3. What about storytelling persuades us?

  4. What about statistics persuades us?

  5. Does where you persuade matter?

  6. Does when you persuade matter?

  7. Why are endings important?

  8. Do we like being lied to?

  9. What do we think changes our behaviour long-term?

  10. What actually makes us change long-term?

Do you want to know if people want to ? Then follow me on Linkedin now so you know my answer before anyone else.


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