We run workshops in presentation skills for all kinds of audiences – managers, front-line staff, sales teams, volunteers and more. If you’d like to make a presentation to inspire your audience to make a change, there is nothing more motivating than your own story. And when it comes to telling your story, it’s always good to have a narrative to pique your listener’s interest. We’ve realised that there are seven basic story structures that you can use to map out your story. According to a 2004 book by journalist Christopher Booker, ‘The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories’, all stories ever told boil down to seven basic storytelling plots.. Read on for some examples to inspire you to tell your story.
The two most frequently used storytelling plots that we see in business presentations and speeches are The Quest, Voyage and Return, Rebirth and Overcoming the Monster. Watch some of the presentations below for ideas on how you could build these plots into your own presentation.
The Quest refers to the relentless pursuit of a goal, in spite of set-backs and deterrents along to way. Oprah Winfrey, in her own Harvard commencement address, surprisingly shares what drove her during a period of failure in an otherwise glittering career. Center Parcs appealed to the struggling parent’s quest to spend time with their children with their ad for family breaks that aired in the months after Christmas 2015. A Quest story is about changing the frame and using your values to take on tough situations and triumph. We remember fondly a story about Grandma’s teeth that began a journey for the presenter, Adele Doherty as she pursued a lifetime of helping those with dementia.
Voyage and return
This story is very common in children’s literature with stories like the Wizard of Oz, Robinson Crusoe, the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. This is a lesson plot where the central character overcomes darkness, which may even be internal to themselves, and returns having learnt a lesson. Aimee Mullins TED Talk uses this structure in her compelling story of overcoming the amputation of her lower limbs to build a career as an athlete and model. In a Voyage story, the central character pushes themselves out of their comfort zone and learns something as a result.
This is the story of eternal redemption in Les Miserables, Scrooge and Despicable Me. The character falls under a ‘dark spell’, mistakes are made, lessons are learned, and the central character experiences a new beginning. This story type is used to great effect by tech companies positioning technology as a force for good in people’s lives. Witness the Nintendo Wii ad overcoming implicit objections about screen time in families.
Overcoming the Monster
This is a classic story plot that’s been used to great effect in Hollywood blockbusters like Star Wars, Erin Brockovich and James Bond. In a presentation, it can motivate change. It can be used to talk about overcoming obstacles that affect society like addiction, illness or debt, like this Save the Children video with Paul O’Grady. Or read how a make-believe competitor of a leading digital marketing company inspired sales success. Bryan Stevenson uses a story from his childhood to illustrate the power of identity in his popular TED Talk.
We see and hear the other story types all around us in creative movies, advertisements and novels that change how we view the world.
Coming of Age or Rags to Riches
This is a lesson plot or a story that’s used to show how someone found their calling. Pretty Woman and the Ugly Duckling are two classic Coming of Age stories. JK Rowling’s Harvard commencement address takes an unexpected turn to carry an inspirational message.
Tragedy and Comedy
And finally, tragedy and comedy are the great approaches used to create messages that stick with audiences. Find out how we can all help to build a sustainable planet with little personal effort in this hilarious video from the Rainforest Alliance.
We hope these great examples of speeches and communications have helped you to think about how to craft your next story.