Use storytelling structure for presentation success

What would your presentation or speech look like if it was a graph? You can plot on a chart the course of a good presentation… just as you can plot the storytelling structure of a movie or book. In fact the graph of a good presentation looks just like the graph of many a movie.

But before we get to the chart, let me pose a question. What would an honest, impartial audience member say about your presentation? We hope, of course, that your audience would describe your performance as spellbinding from beginning to end. But there are other ways a presentation could be described.

Perhaps that impartial observer would say that you made a great first impression, but that the presentation became difficult to follow and in the end your message was unclear. The chart would start high on the vertical axis (impact) but would slope relentlessly down on the horizontal axis (time).

Or the verdict might be that the speech took a long time to get going but it was worth staying the course because you delivered a strong message at the end. That chart would start low but would slope upwards.

The ideal chart would be a mixture of the two… starting high, and building through the course of the presentation to end even higher.

Which brings us to the storytelling structure of a typical movie:

In this case the impact is high at the beginning, reflecting a desire to draw the audience in. The audience is hooked from the get-go.

But often, after the first early car chase or shoot-out, the pace drops. Maybe there’s a flash-back, as the director helps us get to know the characters. Without this background, we might be less inclined to cheer for the lead characters. We might not fully understand their involvement in the plot. In this context section, the chart may trend down a little on the impact axis.

Once the essential background has been established (as much as necessary, as little as possible) the impetus picks up again. The chart starts to move upwards as obstacles are encountered and overcome. Finally the hero comes face to face with the greatest challenge, overcomes it, and the movie ends on a high note, followed by the resolution of loose ends (denouement).

Any good storytelling structure follows a similar pattern: hook the audience, make sure they understand who is involved, then build the drama higher and higher until you reach the big finish.

And that is exactly what your next office presentation could look like.

Get the audience learning forward (hook), foreshadow the journey you are taking them on, make sure listeners have all the information they need to follow your arguments (context), build your case, deliver your proofs and end on a high note with a clear restatement of your call to action, your ‘ask’, your key message.


Stop writing; start talking

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