The trap of classic storytelling

The best presentations are compelling stories. The audience is along for a ride carrying them from an initial understanding to a new, shared understanding.

However, the storytelling style used in most media (TV, movies, fairytales) isn’t well suited to business presentations. Mimicking this style is a trap that is easy to fall into. Instinctively, we want to write a presentation that carries our audience from one clue to the next until we arrive at an exciting, even surprising conclusion.

The structure of classic storytelling (as outlined by Tim Knight & Associates) is as follows:

  1. Context: setting the scene
  2. Foreshadowing: hint at the unexpected ahead
  3. Dramatic unfolding: building interest, conflict, tension
  4. Climax: outcome and resolution
  5. Denouement: wrapping up the story

Though tempting, this approach is bad for a business audience. While it may flow easily for an author, it is frustrating for the audience.

For busy executives, getting to the point is of the essence. It is far better to use a structure that gives away the climax in the beginning, such as:

  1. Climax: Conclusion
  2. Context: Background to ensure everyone understands the situation
  3. Dramatic unfolding: a) analysis framework; b) supporting evidence
  4. Climax: Conclusion, again

Boring, I know. But respectful of your audience.