Everyone that uses data knows how easy it is to twist numbers to reach a biased conclusion. So how can you make people believe your data?

How about telling the story of how your data was compiled?

Here is an excerpt from a presentation by a client that wanted to improve the summer internship program at a large media company.

“Only 1 in 92 of our summer internships actually resulted in a permanent position.”

Of course, that sounds horrible. But it begs a lot of questions. What is causing that horrible return? And could it possibly be true that we’re wasting that much money on internships?

Now there is a piece of data that just begs for an explanation of the story behind the data. Unfortunately, the presentation failed to provide such an explanation.

Here is the rest of the story. This was a presentation by someone in Human Resources. He was seeking funding to create a centralized summer internship program throughout the company. At the time, all summer internships were offered ad hoc. No one in the organization had any sense of the return on the investment from the internship program. No one was tracking how many of those interns became permanent employees. Furthermore, no one had any sense of whether the interns found the program beneficial.

To compile the “1 in 92” figure, he had to call around the company and identify all the different internships being offered. So here is how he could have presented the data more effectively.

We need to centralize our internship program in order to get a return on our investment in the interns.[ Note that he starts with the main point] Right now, we simply have no overall program to manage the interns and ensure that we’re maximizing the return. For example, right now we actually have no clear idea of how many internships are even offered across the company. It’s all handled on an ad hoc basis.

I called around the company and was able to identify 92 separate internships offered last summer. Of those, only one resulted in a full-time offer. That’s obviously a terrible return on our investment.

Why do we have such a lousy return? For one thing, we are only allowed to offer full-time positions to college seniors, yet we’re offering internships to freshmen, sophomores and juniors. There’s no rhyme or reason. If we were to restrict the internships to rising seniors only, that alone could help our ROI.

Also, because the internships are so decentralized, we have no way of ensuring that our interns have a good experience when they’re with us. We have no way of knowing if we’re just training them so that they can go work for our competitors. We have no way of even knowing if we’re identifying the best performers and making them offers.

If you’re going to use data effectively, you have to tell the story behind the data.

Joey Asher

Joey AsherJoey Asher has worked with thousands of business people helping them learn how to communicate in a way that connects with clients. His new book 15 Minutes Including Q&A: a Plan to Save the World from Lousy Presentations” is available now. He is also the author three previous books including “How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals That Will Distinguish You from the Competition”, “Selling and Communication Skills for Lawyers” and “Even A Geek Can Speak.”