Statistics vs stories

What is more important to use in a presentation: statistics or stories?

Reading time: 10 minutes

In this article we are figuring out:

— why we need to use statistics and storytelling in presentations;
— if we need a balance between them;
— how to visualize a story on the slides.

People memorize stories better than data

Let's compare two slides. The first one has only statistics regarding an important matter.

Now, let's add to this slide a story about a girl named Liza. It would be better to add an extra slide for this but to show the effect in the article we added the information on the same slide.

Which of these slides are you more likely to remember?

Most probably, the one that has the story. People are more likely to remember stories because they evoke an emotional response.

If you need to present some numerical information, make up a relevant story. Tell the audience how you've figured out these numbers and what people stand behind them.

When abstract statistics take on a character, they are more likely to stay in our memory.

Data by itself can sound persuasive, but it needs a story to be remembered.

Stories rather than statistics encourage people to act

One group of researchers in the USA decided to prove stories affect people more than just statistics. They were asking students if they want to take the survey in exchange for $5. Each student got $5 along with an envelope and letter after the survey was done. They were told that they had an opportunity to donate any money to the charity.

Half of the students got the letters with a photo of the kid and their story. The other half got the envelope with statistical data about children in need.

Those who had an envelope with a photo of a real person donated twice as much ($2.38 vs $1.17). This research shows that people connect with real characters more than with generalized statistics.

You can use it for your presentations. Let's say you are making a presentation about a new product. The main purpose of this presentation is to sell. Your slides may have such data: the number of satisfied customers, low prices and sales statistics.

But! You need a story. It would be great if you also tell how this product will change the buyer`s life after getting it. The buyer will become the main character in your story and the audience will feel much closer to your product.

There was another part of the research worth mentioning. The third group of students received the envelope with both a story of a concrete child and global statistics.

On average, this group donated less money ($1.45). It is connected to the so-called dilution effect between the least and the most effective argument. More about the effect you can learn from the TEDx presentation of our client Niro Sivanthan "What if your arguments don't add up?".

Extra tip. Use stories to reduce stress during your performance. The beginning of the presentation has the most tension. If you start with the story, you overcome nerves and make a good impression. When we tell stories we use such tips: smile, gestures, making eye contact. The audience takes an interest, they smile, lean forward and listen. And you become more confident.

How to structure a story for the presentation

It is not enough to "just tell the story" to evoke emotion in audience.
There is a simple story structure that you can use: exposition → conflict → culmination → conclusion.

Such a structure is used in books, advertisement, movies. The audience got used to it, it has contrast and attracts the audience.

Another interpretation of this structure includes 12 parts and is called "Hero's journey". For presentations it is enough to have simple 4-step structure.

Let's look at an example.

A story without "Hero's journey" structure

Once, I had run out of money and my scholarship was delayed. I ate leftover pasta and soup for three days. Then I asked mom for some money and decided not to live recklessly anymore. I decided to plan my expenses.

The same story using the structure:

10 years ago I was a student and was living of a monthly scholarship. The first week after receiving it I usually spent all the money I got. The other 3 weeks I was saving on everything just to survive until the next money comes.

Once the scholarship ended earlier than I expected. I was eating onion soup (water, potatoes, onions), pasta without butter and drank sugar-free tea for several days.

University announced that the next scholarship will be 18 days late. I started eating instant noodles.

Truth be told, I had to work. But I didn't know anything. I had to call my parents and ask for money.

Parents lectured me about responsibility but in the end they still sent some money and home-made food.

After having a proper meal, I created an Excel table with all my incomes and expenses. I've been doing it for 10 years, and now that's me who sends money to my parents. That moment taught me how to manage my finance.


The main message of the story is that you have to plan your expenses. In the first example, the focus was vague because the structure was absent. The result — the key takeaway wasn't delivered well. The second story guided us from the appearing of the problem to its resolution. Focus was kept and conclusions were made.

Lifehack from public speaking coach Alexander Zayoma:
recall and practice telling 5-10 stories from your life. This will help you to be ready in case of any unexpected moments in your presentation, such as awkward silence. Stories are also good for business and informal meetings.

Don't forget about statistics, data is important

1. Statistics add relevance to your presentation.

Numbers and facts make abstract ideas more manageable for your audience to understand. Using statistics also makes your statements more compelling because you have exact numbers proving your words.

Not convincing Convincing
Our graduating students are successful 100% of graduating students work within their specialty
Our customers are satisfied with the service 90% of clients come back to us again and again
Ukrainians don't read 57% of Ukrainians haven’t read even one book for this year

2. Use statistics to raise your credibility.

Citing statistics shows your audience that you studied the material. The audience trusts you if you use statistics from reliable sources. You become a "trusted information resource".

You can use statistics from many resources: local authorities, state organizations, nationwide or global researches. Examples for statistics and data: Nielsen, Eurostat, PWC, Gartner.

3. Show different point of views.

Using statistics, we can influence people with diverse outlooks and visions. People are willing to accept the facts that meet their beliefs and ignore those run counter to them. Your task is to choose the right perspective for your audience.

Let's consider 2 perspectives: 36% of Ukrainians haven't read even one book in this year or 31% of Ukrainians read books several times a month. People who think that Ukrainians are not well-read will only believe in the first fact. Those think the opposite will accept the second argument. If you choose the right statistics you can influence the perception of people.

Examples of visual storytelling in Reprezent presentations

Use the story and statistics to present the idea, problem or product. You can connect the story with statistics or support the story with facts. You can choose to start your presentation with the story or finish with it.

Slide from the presentation for Sergii Hyvrych from ProffstoreVisualization of the change of the working place. The empty office shows that traditional working culture will cease to exist.

Daria Loseva during the presentation at TEDxKyivSalon used a story of two characters Olia and Kolia to tell about evolution of human genes.

Presentation for Alexandros Psichogios Alexandros Psichogios told about leadership being comprised of 3 natures. The main idea of the presentation was to integrate characters that would link the psychological concepts that the speaker was describing.

Presentations that will be remembered

We made hundreds of presentations over the 6 years. The ones we are most proud of are those that we remember and share with each other. Their secret is that they combine statistics and stories in the best way.

Stories are powerful in the hands of leaders that know how to use them. Nancy Duarte tells that stories can influence people in the company. Leaders inspire others to support and realize their vision. Stories can motivate people to make bold decisions and make changes that produce development. Leaders turn an idea to progress with the help of storytelling – a powerful motivating tool.

Statistics, on the other hand, help us understanding the scope of a problem and make more considerate decisions.

Try to find a balance between stories and statistics, inspire audience with your presentations and help them to make rational decisions.

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