You may think that data stands on its own as a hard-hitting element. And perhaps it does, if your main aim is to hit people hard with boredom. 

But even the most seemingly boring numbers can be transformed into compelling narratives with tips served up by CMC keynote Anita Ramanathan.

Anita opened the Content Performance module of Content Marketing Conference 2021 with a presentation that outlined How to Explain Data Insights Using Storytelling. (Catch the recording.)

She started with a comparison of data versus stories.

Data vs. Stories

When you compare data against stories, it appears stories are the winner. Well, in all areas except one. 


  • Are always in action
  • Are emotional
  • Are subjective
  • Can start a conversation
  • Are remembered by 60% of the audience 


  • Proves a point
  • Is factual
  • Is objective
  • Is what it is
  • Is remembered by 5% of the audience

But data does have one big selling-point that outweighs stories: it can drive important decisions.

Put the two together, and you have a double winner. Three steps from Anita tell you how.

1. Get the Backstory

Instead of just showing the audience a batch of numbers, tell them why the numbers matter. What’s at stake? When you share why something matters to you, people begin to care about your numbers and your data. 

Let’s say you saw Jenny’s race times: 

  • 59 seconds – Race time, January
  • 55 seconds – Race time, February
  • 62 seconds – Race time, March

OK. That’s nice. Jenny’s race time improved and then got worse. So what? 

If you knew she would win $1 million if she was able to complete the race in fewer than 60 seconds by May, the numbers are a bit more meaningful. 

2. Share the Meaning Behind the Numbers, Not Just the Numbers

Despite the saying that numbers speak for themselves, they really don’t. You have to speak for them. Again, it gives them deeper meaning. 

Let’s go back to Jenny’s race times: 

  • 60 seconds – Race time, January
  • 55 seconds – Race time, February
  • 62 seconds – Race time, March 

You might think Jenny is messing up—until you learn she got a new brand of running shoes in early March. Perhaps it’s the shoes that are messing her up. 

Share Your Point of View 

If you end the story above, you’re missing the chance to share your expertise (and the story’s conclusion). You want to offer your interpretation of the numbers and suggest what to do next. 

You have three choices for what to do next: 

  • Change something
  • Continue to do what’s working
  • Stop doing it, perhaps changing course or going after a new objective  

In the case of Jenny, the suggestion would be to change something. Namely to trash those new shoes. Go back to the shoes she had been wearing when she was improving. And if they’re worn out, at least get the same brand. 

Jenny still has another month to train with different shoes. You can check in after May to see how it turned out. 

You’ll also want to check in on Anita’s keynote to get more examples, deeper details and a handful of tricks to make your data storytelling even more compelling. Watch her keynote now.

CMC 2021 runs from April 27 to 29. If you miss any live keynotes, their recordings will be posted shortly after their presentations. You also get a jam-packed agenda with more than 50 sessions from marketing pros covering the six pillars of content marketing. Get in on it