How to Tell a Story with Numbers: What We Learned

22 Mar 2015 10:11 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

In today’s data-driven world, there are more numbers and metrics than ever.  As finance professionals, we inherently understand the numbers.  The challenge, therefore, is communicating the meaning of the data to a full range of audiences. 

Led by moderator Liz Sadwick, Director of Business Development, RPg Asset Management, panelists at Boston Women in Finance’s “How to Tell a Story with Numbers” reviewed how to identify the right data, words and pictures to tell a meaningful story.     

The Right Data   Sometimes the story begins with the data and other times it is the data that leads to a story of interest.  Beth Healy, Financial and Investigative Reporter, The Boston Globe, explained that at times she will use data to support an anecdotal story.  Other times she will find a story when she is reading the fine print and/or footnotes.  Whereas the headline of the press release may tout an impressive-looking number, there is often a more interesting story buried in the notes.  She encouraged us as finance professionals to make sure there is an explanation for both good and bad data points.

The Right Words  Pat Deware, CFO, Selventa, reminded the audience that numbers are only important if they offer meaning into a relevant topic.  As such, she works hard to ensure she narrows down the important data points, then ties those to issues that the management team cares about.  Rather than talk about every metric available, she focuses on the ones that are of use, then uses appropriate descriptions to ensure the meaning is clear to her audience.

The Right Pictures  Infographics and visuals are increasingly important.  So much so that major publications now have editors responsible just for visual content.  Connie Hubbell, President The Hubbell Group, also impressed upon the group of ensuring that all content – from infographics to  investor decks – be easily viewed on a mobile device. 

In sum, numbers cannot tell a story by themselves.  Whether using numbers to advocate for more resources for your department or to showcase an exciting company development, it’s important to choose the appropriate  data, describe it with meaningful words, and deliver the complete message in a visually compelling manner.  

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