Arguing with Numbers

Describing data; constructing narratives; using data to build an argument

Everyone agrees that NHS decisions—decisions about resources—are best made when we use data to inform them. And because such decisions are usually made in meetings, we need to be able to present data effectively at meetings. Which means we need to be good at preparing written reports (that are either circulated in advance of the meeting or tabled during the meeting). And it means that we need to be good at speaking at meetings so that we can introduce and explain the data verbally to everyone there.

The trouble is, this skill—the ability to present numbers on paper and in person—is in short supply. It's hard enough finding people who are good at just presenting. But when you complicate things by defining the skill as presenting data, you find that there are even fewer people who can do that. There's more to presenting data than just presenting.

It's about knowing how to invoke data as evidence in support of your argument. It's about knowing what order to put that evidence in. It's about knowing what to say or write before and after you reveal each piece of evidence. It's about striking the balance between detail (knowing how accurate your numbers are) and the "big picture" message (what does it all mean?). It's tricky.

Arguing with Numbers is a one-day course that teaches these skills.

Session 1 / Topping and tailing data exhibits
The first session of the course teaches the four basic building blocks of how to introduce and describe an individual table or chart in a written document or in a spoken presentation.

Session 2 / Punchlines, momentum and semi-colons
The second session builds on the teaching of the first session by showing how to string two or three data exhibits together. At this stage we are still operating within the confines of a short, one or two sides of A4 document for written narratives, or a 2-3 minute slot in a meeting for spoken narratives. We draw on the advice of radio documentary producers, Hollywood screenwriters and William Shakespeare to show how even a short report or presentation can be given life and shape if a few simple rules are applied to the way it is ordered and described.

Session 3 / Shape and Structure for longer documents and presentations
When your data-rich report is a longer one (several pages), or when your data presentation is going to run to longer than just 2-3 minutes, you need to apply different rules for shaping and structuring your content. In this session we discuss how different 'plot lines' can be incorporated into a 'one-size-fits-all' template and then practice applying that template to several examples of content.

Session 4 / Document layout and design
Written reports and presentations need to look the part. And there are ways of integrating words and numbers in Word documents and PowerPoint presentations that work particularly well. The final session of the course looks at the techniques that can be used to make your reports and slideshows more effective and professional.

Arguing with Numbers is a one-day training course aimed at anyone in the NHS—managers, clinicians, analysts—who needs to present data. It deals with written words and numbers. And it deals with spoken words and numbers. It shows how to integrate data into short, simple arguments and it shows you how to integrate data into longer, more complex arguments. It covers situations when things are black-and-white and it deals with situations when you are using data to try and differentiate between the fifty shades of grey in between. It addresses how to anticipate challenging questions. And it does all of this in a participative, hands-on way, using real NHS data examples.

Arguing with Numbers can be booked as an on-site workshop for £1,250+VAT, and up to 12 participants can be accommodated in each workshop session. A degree of familiarity with Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word and Microsoft PowerPoint is helpful for this training course.