Why the Drama? Because it Works
“People say: 'Let the facts speak for themselves'; they forget that the speech of facts is real only if it is heard and understood.” - Ernest Schumacher, A Guide for the Perplexed
What advertisers have known for ages, and behavioral scientists have more recently begun to categorize, is that humans are creatures driven more by emotion than by reason. I don't buy detergent because it has been shown to work 10% better than its competitor, I buy it to avoid the potential embarrassment of having stained clothes.
Now that most of us are knowledge workers of some sort, we typically find ourselves needing to sell our ideas. Here again, the facts will take us only so far. For this reason, Dale Carnegie advises would-be influencers to "dramatize your ideas."
For one thing, the facts can be dry. Carnegie tells of a marketing executive who needed to present the results of a detailed consumer survey of a variety of cold creams. When he tried at first to present the factual results, he quickly became sidelined in a fruitless argument over the study's methodology. Having learned his lesson, on his next visit he instead summarized the results for each cream on a little tag he attached to a jar of the cream itself. This visualization allowed the discussion to be about the merits of the conclusions rather than technicalities.
Then, of course, is the inability to evaluate whether most facts are accurate. Mark Twain famously said "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics."* The Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh echoed this sentiment, saying, "Letting the facts speak for themselves is an immoral principle when we all know that facts and figures can be selected to prove anything." Al Gore is famous for his grasp of the facts and details, but George W. Bush was able to dismiss them by beginning the debate saying "obviously tonight we are going to hear some phony numbers," and responding to each subsequent statement from Gore as another case of "fuzzy math." Although the facts may later be verified or disproved, our impression has been made already.
This is not to say that facts are not useful for influence. Quite the contrary: a good grasp of facts can convey authority, one of Cialdini's "weapons of influence." However, when presenting them it is usually best to determine why they are interesting, and to put them in a context that will resonate emotionally with your audience.
As Carnegie said, "The movies do it, TV does it, why don't you do it?"
*Fact: Twain is not considered to have originated this quote. He himself attributed it to Benjamin Disraeli, who is not recorded to have said any such thing. Twain did at least write it (in his autobiography) and thus it seems fair to say he "famously said it." In the end, it doesn't matter, as the point is the same regardless of its origin. I include this fact only to illustrate the theme of this post.