The story of Ignaz Semmelweiss should be encouragement to many presenters that advocacy needs more than numbers to persuade audiences. Data alone, despite the underlying belief of many audiences, is not enough. Data requires context, connection and perspective. The skill of advocacy in presentation is the blending of all of these factors to offer direction to the audience. Story can deliver this. Advocacy needs more than numbers.
Ignaz Semmelweiss was a Hungarian born obstertrician working in Vienna. He discovered the reason that the physician led obstetric practice had a ten times higher mortality rate for mothers and infants than the same unit run by midwives. He died, insane and of the same cause as his patients, some fifteen years later having the data but convincing very few people of the import of his findings. Ignaz Semmelweiss recognised that physicians carried with them from the dissection of dead patients something that would kill live patients; infection. His data was not enough for effective advocacy.
As humans we struggle to get good perspective on numbers. Countless fatalities happen in the world every day yet few make the news. The threat posed by the novel Corona virus appears grave and yet the risk of death by gun violence is much much more likely. We fear attack by sharks but cars are our greatest killer. The nature of numbers is significantly affected by their delivery to us. Fellow travellers wearing surgical masks cause us to worry more than the taxi journey to the airport.
Advocacy needs more than numbers to be effective. This is often best delivered by story. Skilful construction and delivery can deliver the persuasive context, connection and perspective. We are all aware of the risk of breast cancer, this becomes significantly important to an audience when a breast surgeon tells the story of a woman discovering a breast lump and even more impactful when that woman is the speaker herself. Advocacy needs more than numbers. Effective advocacy needs us to be more like Liz, than Ignaz.