RIVETING DATA: How to Make Any Presentation Exciting Using Hollywood Storytelling Techniques

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“In today’s business world you must know how to talk about numbers. Riveting Data provides a great recipe for how to do that.”
— Maryam Alavi, Dean, Scheller College of Business, Georgia Institute of Technology

Data Presentations Can be as Riveting as a Hollywood Thriller

Most data-driven presentations stink. They’re boring. They’re confusing. They’re stuck in the weeds. But it doesn’t have to be so. You can use the story-telling tools of Hollywood directors like Steven Spielberg to make any presentation exciting. Riveting Data available in paperback or e-reader.

Learn how to:

  • Grab your audience by establishing high strategic stakes.
  • Tell your story simply and quickly.
  • Build in twists and turns with lots of Q&A.
  • Connect with your listeners like the most likable Hollywood stars.





My favorite movie of all time is the old summer block- buster, “Jaws.” Not just because it’s a great lm, but because Steven Spielberg delivers a master class in how to tell a story.

He sets up the plot in the rst scene with that horri c shark attack. From there, Spielberg takes the audience on a thrill-ride that lasts two hours but feels like ten minutes.

Those of us who saw it on the big screen in 1975 stood and cheered when Chief Brody killed the shark. That’s right. We gave Steven Spielberg a standing ovation at the Rialto Duplex in the Atlanta suburbs.

I feel sorry for you youngsters who haven’t seen it. Put it in your queue on Netflix. And don’t give me that crap about the shark looking fake. So the special effects weren’t as good back then. Who cares? Focus on the acting and the storytelling.

Because the lessons you learn from “Jaws” can help you make even the dullest data-driven presentations exciting.

That’s right. You can apply the lessons of “Jaws,” and many Hollywood classics, to make that monthly sales update riveting. What about that speech about mov- ing pallets through distribution centers? It can be so interesting that no one will think of looking at his or her email. And that talk on data security issues? It can put your listeners on the edges of their cushy conference room chairs. They may not give you a “standing O.” But they’ll thank you for “that great presentation.”

Let me say it even more plainly. A presentation on Workers’ Compensation Data — that fascinating stuff about employee claims for workplace injuries — can be as exciting to your audience as a Hollywood block- buster.

How? By realizing that data-driven presentations aren’t about data. Like “Jaws” or any great movie, they’re stories that take listeners on a journey. Rather than focusing on the data, you should focus on context and story.


1. You must present the data as part of a larger story that your listener cares deeply about.

2. You must make yourself vulnerable to the most difficult, sweat-inducing questions.

3. You must connect using a passionate style.

This book is going to guide you in how to do just that. And my experience in working with hundreds of business people over the last 15 years is that anyone can learn to do this. You don’t have to be a gifted speaker with perfect hair. You can be an introvert with stage fright and clothes that don’t t. You don’t have to be a native English speaker with a huge vocabulary and a perfect accent. You don’t even need a lot of speaking experience.

But there is one thing that you do need. You need the courage to fight the Weenies. The Weenies are the ones who say, “We have to use this same slide deck because that’s what the listeners always want.” (Even though no one enjoys the presentations.)

The Weenies insist on including dozens of slides in every presentation because “there’s a chance that someone might ask a question on this or that topic.”

The Weenies always speak in a corporate approved monotone because “that’s how everyone else sounds.”

The Weenies always speak for the fully allotted hour even if the topic is not worth more than 10 minutes. “Uhh. Well. You know. They gave me an hour. So. Uh. Well. You know. I had to ll the hour.”

And the Weenies aren’t always in the cubicle down the hall. The Weenies can be in your head. They say, “What will people think if I present differently from the others?” Or, “Won’t people be taken aback if I try it like this?”

The Weenies are the external and internal voices that worry about the common wisdom.

This book will help you dare to beat back the Weenies and learn to give the best presentations of your life.

So here is how the book is laid out.


Chapters 1-10 detail how to craft and deliver an exciting data-driven presentation. We focus on the philosophy of how to tell a great story and how to make data exciting. Chapter 8 includes presentation outlines from two of my clients who applied these principles. Chapters 9 and 10 focus on slides and how to keep the story tight.


In today’s highly interactive world, Q&A is more important than ever. And Chapter 11 focuses on how you can use Q&A to keep people on the edges of their seats and build your credibility.


You don’t have to be a dynamic person to give a great presentation. But you do have to find your own way to connect with the listeners. And you have to practice. Chapters 12-13 focus on how to deliver.

So ignore the Weenies, my friends, and read on. Follow these ideas, and your data-driven messages will no longer stink. Instead, they’ll grab your listeners and hold them to the end just like “Jaws” or any great movie thriller.




Why do so many data-driven presentations stink? They’re boring. They’re confusing. They’re stuck in the weeds. They fail to provide context.

They fail to tell a story.
With that in mind, if you want to learn how to give a great presentation using data, you should learn the keys to telling a riveting story. And for that, there’s no better teacher than Steven Spielberg. He directed classics like “Jaws,” “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” “Schin- dler’s List,” and many others.

You can watch almost any of his movies and you’ll see a pattern.

  1. Establish the Stakes: The first scene or two establishes the stakes: a threat, a challenge, or a big problem. And from that first moment, you know that the story is about beating back that threat.
  2. A Simple Pursuit: The characters pursue a solution. The story follows a simple straight line until the threat is eliminated. The plot is easy to follow. No dream sequences. No flashbacks. No “Hey, wait a minute. I think I missed that.”
  1. Twists and Turns: Twists and turns make the story fun and exciting.
  2. Rapid Pacing: The story moves quickly and doesn’t waste time. Just put the pedal to the metal and roar ahead until the end.
  3. Interesting Characters: We like the people we meet in the movie.


Let’s look at “Jaws,” my favorite.

1. Establish the Stakes: The movie starts with a shark attack. The girl goes skinny-dipping and gets eaten. Why start this way? Spielberg is establishing the stakes. A shark is threaten- ing the lives of swimmers and the economy of a beach community. We all care about that. We’ve all been to the beach. We’ve all worried about getting eaten by sharks.

2. A Simple Pursuit: Next, the characters pur- sue a solution to the threat. And Spielberg does it with a straightforward story. It’s a shark chase that follows (as we’ll see) a simple three-act plot.

3. Twists and Turns: While the story is simple, there are plenty of unexpected moments that jar us awake and make us sit up and take notice.

4. Rapid Pacing: “Jaws” is two hours long. But it’s the shortest two hours you’ll ever experience. 5. Interesting Characters: We enjoy spend- ing time with the key players, Brody, Quint, and Hooper.

Look at any of Spielberg’s movies: “ET,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Saving Private Ryan,” even “Schindler’s List.” They all follow the same pattern. The stakes are always high. They’re always established early. And the movie pro- ceeds quickly with several twists and turns until the goal is achieved. And, critically, we like the characters.

Of course, this isn’t just Spielberg’s formula. It’s a common storytelling approach. Consider “Law and Order.” If you’ve watched the program as often as I have, you’d notice a pattern. Nearly every episode starts with the stakes: someone nds a corpse in an alley, a dumpster, or a gas station restroom. From there, it’s a quick ride with several twists and turns to the conclu- sion when someone goes to jail. And, of course, we like the protagonists.


Can you hear the Weenies starting to whine?
“But wait a second, Joey! Data-driven business presentations never start with a corpse! My presentations are concerned with incremental sales revenues. There’s no naked girl swimming in the water! That stuff just doesn’t apply here.”

I understand the concern. It might be easier to give better presentations if you could start with a skinny- dipping scene.

But hear me out.

Let’s consider a presentation about rising Workers’ Compensation costs at your company’s warehouses. Boring, right?

Not necessarily. If you apply Spielberg’s storytell- ing pattern, you can grab the listeners and hold them.

Establish the Stakes: Perhaps you start by focusing on what you know is a major concern for the listeners, the rising cost of Workers’ Compensation along with the risk of a major injuries. You can make this “Hook” as exciting as you like. Perhaps you have a story about someone getting injured in a forklift accident. Or perhaps you simply point out that rising Workers’ Compensation costs threaten the company’s ability to compete. Or perhaps the threat is more profound. Perhaps the insurance carrier might pull its coverage if you can’t get costs under control. That’s a strategic business threat. And you do it at the very beginning of the presentation. No preliminaries. Just hit the audience with the threat.

The Simple Pursuit: Now you show how you’re going to attack the threat. Perhaps you identify the cause of the rising costs and detail a solution. This is the body of the presentation. It should be simple and logical. Keep your message to three simple points.

Twists and Turns: Unpredictability brings excite- ment. Of course, in business presentations you can’t have sharks unexpectedly attacking a fishing boat. But you can have unpredictability. Leave lots of time for Q&A. Let the audience put you on the spot. That adds interest and excitement while boosting credibility.

Rapid Pacing: Keep the presentation as short as possible. By moving fast and leaving lots of time for Q&A, you’ll keep the audience engaged.

Interesting Characters: This goes to delivery style. You need to connect with your listeners personally and speak with the passion that makes people listen.

As far as I know, Mr. Spielberg has never given a presentation on Workers’ Compensation costs. But if you want to make your data-heavy presentations interest- ing, you should consider following his approach.




Data Can Be Riveting If You’re Willing to Fight the Weenies



How to Tell a Story Like Steven Spielberg



A Formula to Help Structure Your Message



The Hook: Start by “Identifying the Shark”



The Message Objective: Promising to Kill the Shark



A Simple Pursuit in Three Acts



Data Should Drive Strategic Insights and Stories



How to Wrap Up Your Presentation



Outlines of Example Presentations



How to Create Slides That Don’t Drive Listeners Mad



Your Presentation Is Too Damn Long



Make Your Presentation Exciting and Persuasive with Q&A



Use an Authentic Style to Connect



Practice a Lot to Make It Great



Data Presentations Can Be Exciting



Riveting Data teaches you how to use facts and figures to sell ideas. Joey’s point is simple: don’t just share the numbers use them to tell a strategic business story. It’s excellent advice and this book provides a clear recipe for success.
Carol B. Tomé, Chief Financial Officer, The Home Depot
In today’s business world you must know how to talk about numbers.

Riveting Data provides a great recipe for how to do that.

Maryam Alavi, Dean, Scheller College of Business, Georgia Institute of Technology
I tell my team members that they shouldn’t just give me the data. They need to tell me what that data means.

Riveting Data is a great book that shows you how to do that.

Lee Rivas, President of Clinical Solutions for Elsevier and CEO , The Health Care and Public Sector Businesses for LexisNexis Risk Solutions
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Additional Publications by Joey Asher