By John Borrowman, CPC
Borrowman Baker, LLC, BV Staffing + Consulting
Steven Spielberg told a riveting story in his movie, Jaws. You can use his storytelling model in delivering potentially boring data in presentations. That’s the point Joey Asher makes in his latest book, Riveting Data.
We reached out to Asher to talk about his thoughts on using data in presentations.
At the start of your book, you use “Jaws” as a story-telling model. When or how did it strike you that this model was also useful in business presentations?
I’ve always loved the movie and have watched it at least a dozen times. At some point it just struck me how the movie is like a lot of stories in that it starts by raising a big question. In this case the question is “Can we save the community from the shark?” But that’s how many great stories are told. The story begins with a large question and then moves toward resolution.
And that is how a good presentation should unfold as well. You start with a big question and move toward resolution.
It’s not uncommon to hear that we should “let the numbers speak for themselves.” You make the point that, by definition, the numbers can’t speak for themselves. Say more about that.
Numbers need interpretation. If you tell me that last month we sold 10 snow blowers at our hardware store, that’s a piece of data that demands an interpretation. Is selling 10 snow blowers good? I don’t know. I guess it depends. If the hardware store is in Miami, Florida, then I suspect that’s amazing. But if the hardware store is in Anchorage, Alaska, then maybe it’s not as good.
Do you think the model you’re suggesting is necessarily more effective in selling products or services?
I don’t think it matters. It’s a model for telling a story.
Your advice sounds like it would be a good fit in a Provider – Client (or potential client) context. What about the data enthusiast who is presenting to an audience of like-minded people at a business conference? What would your advice be in that case?
Even if you’re presenting to others very much into the data, you still need to tell a story. The reason data enthusiasts love data is that they see the stories more readily than the rest of us. But they still see the stories.
You recommend embracing Q&A to create a friendly environment. You write that “Audiences behave the way they think they’re supposed to behave.” What does that mean for a presenter?
Audiences take their cues from the speaker. If you make it clear to the audience that you want them to ask lots of questions, generally they will do so. How do you cue them to ask lots of questions? You say “please ask lots of questions and feel free to interrupt me at any time.” You always stop when someone raises their hand. You never say “Please hold your questions to the end.” You leave lots of time for Q&A.