How podcast plot lines can rev up your presentations

A good storyline is the spine of many an audio program. Here are guidelines on how to apply that approach to your informative talks and persuasive addresses.

What lessons can speakers draw from podcasts?

In an article for Transom, HowSound podcast host Rob Rosenthal had a colleague assemble the outline of some popular podcasts on napkins. The goal was to visualize the content structure of a typical story from these podcasts.

Although these structures were developed for sound, they can also drastically improve the narrative of any presentation. You just need the willingness to try and the tenacity to stick through the structure from beginning to end.

Here are a few podcast story structures outlined and exemplified in a presentation format:

1. This American Life

Ira Glass’ brainchild, This American Life, follows a fairly simple structure. Something occurs, then another thing occurs, and then another. After all of these happenings (dashes), a moment of reflection takes place, followed by a discussion on what all of the events mean (exclamation points).

Source: My Kingdom for Some Structure

Presentation Tip: So, let’s say you are a CEO explaining to your employees a process you employed to improved time management companywide. Using the This American Life approach, you would start with an incident that sparked a change in process.

For example, you noticed that marketers were missing deadlines (something happened). Then, you noticed lapses in communication between designers and marketers, resulting in insufficient notice for illustration development (another thing happened). To remedy that, you implemented new software that consolidates communication, conveys vital information and houses the finished product, all in one place (another thing happened).

After describing this process by highlighting a specific experience, you would expand on the moment of reflection. Why did this process speed up content development? What was wrong, and how did this process fix it?

2. All Things Considered

The first NPR program ever established—about 45 years ago—was All Things Considered, a segment that features varying storytelling modes.

The structure of a typical story from All Things Considered begins with an opening scene (a straight line), as a principal character is introduced.

After this scene, the story delves into data-driven, statistic-based information about the topic or situation at hand (the downward dip).

At the end of the story, you return to the opening scene/character (the straight line). Time may have passed, and the character could be in a different stage of life.

Source: My Kingdom for Some Structure

Presentation Tip: This story mirrors a hero’s journey, showing the audience where they are and where they could be—if they bought a certain product, used a certain tool or read a certain document.

A narrative like this could work well for a clothing brand trying to convince consumers that their leggings are the best in the industry, for example. In the opening scene, the presenter could introduce a prospective customer who is wearing leggings made by a different company. They are see-through and itchy; she doesn’t feel confident and beautiful wearing them.

In the middle part, or the downward dip, the presenter could introduce the brand as a mentor, aiding the customer into the unknown with a call to action—try these new leggings. The presenter would explain why this brand’s leggings are superior, using research-backed points.

Finally, the presentation would end with the once-prospective customer now a full-fledged brand evangelist, sporting her new leggings and feeling as beautiful as ever.

3. Transom’s “e” progression

Not all stories on Transom stick to this format, but it is Rob’s structure of choice and the one he teaches at Transom learning workshops.

At the beginning point of the “e,” the story starts in or around the present. The character goes through a sequence of events, and when the “e”‘ loops upward, the story goes from present to past or broadens. As the loop ends, the story comes back to the present and on to a resolution.

Source: My Kingdom for Some Structure

Presentation Tip: This is a more familiar narrative arc, with a defined beginning, middle and end. However, a presenter could have fun with certain elements.

A company planning for its 30th anniversary might use this approach to provide context to newer employees or to family members, friends and some less-familiar audiences.

By taking time in the middle of the narrative to transport the audience from the present and tell them how the company got where it is today—and how and why it started in the first place—the presenter could add a new, resonant dimension to the story.

Next time you hear a news story on the radio, pay attention to the narrative structure. Don’t dismiss it as a potential narrative technique for your next presentation. Storytelling is storytelling, no matter what medium is used to disseminate it.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Ethos3 blog.

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