Lightning Struck Him 7 Times: What it Teaches Us About Data with Drama4 min read


“When my ears stopped ringing, I heard something sizzling. It was my hair on fire.”

That quote above is from Roy “Spark Ranger” Sullivan, Shenandoah National Park Ranger, the fourth time he was struck by lightning.

Little did he know then, he’d meet the ugly end of a bolt 3 more times, and live to tell his tale.

The way I see it, he’s both the unluckiest – and luckiest – S.O.B. who ever lived. Either way, he teaches us a bit about what good storytelling is.

Spark Ranger – 1 in a million doesn’t even come close

If you had a one in a million chance at anything, you’d assume the odds were stacked against you.

Poor Spark, on the other hand, was nothing short of an anomaly. He’s quite literally 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

And as astounding as those zeroes are, I wonder what you’re more likely to remember:

  • That the chance of getting struck by lightning is 1 in whatever, or
  • That there was a guy named Spark who was actually struck by lightning 7 times, and survived every time

A majority of you, I’m sure, will remember Spark.

Consider this: Stats deliver a powerful punch. But if you want people to remember that data, you have to humanize it so they can make a connection.  


Especially if you’re trying to convince folks to take an action, backing your claims with numbers and research gives your words a level of credence.

But never sacrifice story for stats.

So what can you do to bring drama to your data – aside from getting struck by lightning 8 times?

Think about the people behind the numbers.

For example, the Indy Star reported that the 2016 Indy 500 would have 350,000 in attendance, or 1 out of every 1,000 people in the country.

That statistic is pretty incredible alone. It shows how momentous the 100thrunning of this race would be.

But it doesn’t move me. There isn’t any story behind it. 

So what did the Indy Star do to paint a picture we all could connect to? They told the story of one man – and not even one of the 350,000 in attendance.

They told the story of the one man whose dream helped build this racetrack, and who would never get to see 1 out of 1,000 Americans fill the seats of his dream.

It’s a pretty compelling story. And a whole lot more interesting than spitting numbers down my throat.

I’m a big believer of the power of data. I haven’t always been that way – numbers make me uncomfortable so I was apt to stay away from them.

But as I’ve honed my craft to focus more on what my audience wants (as opposed to focusing on what I think they want) I’ve accepted that cold-hard data can be the ultimate persuader.

But unless you wrap that data inside a story with some feeling, all you’ll have on your screen are a bunch of worthless numbers.