Telling the Story through Statistics

Hans Rosling does a fantastic presentation posted on Ted Talks. Rosling brings data and statistics to life. For anyone in software testing who’s been thrown in front of the executive management team and been asked to present statistics – whether those statistics are defect metrics or web performance analysis, watch this webcast. And this one too.

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His first presentation at Ted in 2006 was so well received, he’s back in 2007. Once again, he demonstrates how statistics don’t have to be dull. I think what makes his presentations so effective is the combination of his deep knowledge, clean graphics, and passionate delivery. Thanks to Rob Sabourin who pointed out Rosling to me.

I’ve watched both webcasts several times and noticed a few things. No graphs or fantastic presentation can replace knowledge. Rosling knows his data. He pleads us to look, look at the data. Look at what the data can tell you. And he takes what must be volumes of data and tells us a story. He weaves mini-stories into an overall presentation. We pick up data; we see the nuances and we begin to see the story as a whole.

This brings to mind comments from Edward Tufte, re: power point presentations that are too thin to be effective. We miss the full story, we lose context when we’re forced through countless slides with perfect bullet points. We don’t gain the deeper perspective that matters. See this booklet from Tufte. What I learned from this is to do my analysis without being limited by any tool.

Back to Rosling. Rosling doesn’t miss the story. He has the data, the graphs, and the passion. He brings it all together. Honestly his videos are spellbinding. If you listen closely he addresses preconceptions and bias in constructive ways. I find this helpful as sometimes I encounter deep-seated beliefs and need to tactfully show how the data doesn’t always match what we believe or want to believe.

Rosling warns too about the danger of using averages. Something each of us in software testing who gather statistics from performance testing should be well aware of. Every time I hear his comment on how averages can be dangerous, I want to jump up and down. Exactly. Averages can be misleading. He guides us through volumes of information in a way that makes it digestible. He tells us how statistics are beautiful. What’s beautiful his presentation.

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