100 Things You Should Know About People: #67 — Anecdotes Persuade More Than Data

pie chart with a "No" red slash through it
No Data!

Let’s say you have to make a presentation to several department heads at work about your latest conversations with your customers. You interviewed 25 customers and surveyed another 100, and have lots of important data to share. Your first thought might be to present a summary of the data in a numerical/statistical/data driven format, for example:

  • 75% of the customers we interviewed….
  • Only 15% of the customers responding to the survey indicated…

Perhaps you are thinking about pie charts vs. bar charts.

Don’t present the data first — A data based approach will not be as persuasive as anecdotes. You may want to include the data in the presentation at some point, but your presentation will be more powerful if you start with and focus on one or more anecdotes, for example:

  • “Mary M from San Francisco shared the following story about how she uses our product: …”

and then go on to tell Mary’s story.

Why anecdotes speak louder than data –– Anecdotes are in story form. They will invoke empathy, which triggers emotional reactions. With emotional reactions people will process the data and the feelings. Emotions will also trigger the memory centers in the brain.

Processing emotions is more important for decision-making than processing data — In my book Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? I explain that most mental processing occurs unconsciously. It’s easy to forget that information is coming in and being processed from many sources. It’s easy to forget that people are processing emotions too. If you want people to act on the data, then you need to couple it with emotional data.

Better yet, use video – For the most impact, don’t just tell Mary’s story in the presentation, let Mary tell the story herself, either in person or on video.

What do you think? What has happened when you’ve used emotional “data” instead of or in addition to statistics?


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8 Replies to “100 Things You Should Know About People: #67 — Anecdotes Persuade More Than Data”

  1. A 100 person survey doesn’t sound like ‘data’ to me — just a series of anecdotes. On the other hand, if you said something like “we surveyed 10,000 people” — or even 1000 — that would tell a different story. (Possibly because at that point, there *is* an emotional reaction, but.)

  2. Only thing that I know, regardless of the fact am I lecturer or listener, if story is told, attention degree is infinitely times higher then just data from slides.

    If you are able to make anecdotes and stories, whole lecture can be more pleasant and memorable.

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