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Giving Your Presentation A Mythic Structure

The mythic structure I described earlier is all about your hero meeting greater and greater challenges and overcoming them until, eventually, he meets his greatest challenge, defeats it, and returns home to the better world that he has created.

You already know what the better world is – it is the world of your conclusion.  The world in which you show you have already achieved all of your goals, and are a success, or the world where you are inspiring others to go out and change the world.  This is your destination.

You already established who your hero is – it is the person who is facing the challenges.

The ordinary world – the place where the hero begins his story is the world that you want to change.  Its a place of uncertainty.  And a place where, if you stay, everything stays the same – or potentially gets worse. This is where you begin to tell your tale.

Lets imagine, for example, that I was to be giving a presentation discussing the new release of a software product to a group of salesmen.  I know that my message is “we’ve done all this hard work to make your lives easier”.  I know my conclusion is going to be “its so much easier to sell this software now – so go out there and sell more of it”.  I know my hero – in this story – is going to be a fictional salesman character that I’m creating… one who is going to be facing all the problems with selling the last version of our software.  So what is my ordinary world?

In this case, the ordinary world is where the salesman goes to meet his customer.  Its still a place where he doesn’t quite know what hes going to face. He is prepared, but he knows that there are some inperfections in the software he is going to seel, and he is worried the customer might ask him about them – because that is where he could potentially lose the deal.  He psyches himself up, raises his chin, puts on his best smile and walks through his customer’s office door.

Now, we need to move on to the challenges the hero faces.

Think of all the points you wish to convey in your presentation.  They might be about how your product is better than the last version – or better than the competition.  They may be about how a set of processes improves performance.  They may be about news laws and the impact on a charity.  in short,t hese are the things that in a traditional powerpoint presentation would be written on slides as bullet points.


Do not write them on the slides as bullet points.

That is exactly what this presentation technique is trying to avoid.

No one remembers bullet points.  Everyone remembers stories.

But consider your list of points.  Each point describes either

Something you want someone to do – or know


Something that has (or is going to) change, and its impact


Facts which supports one of the above

We can ignore the supporting facts for now – we’ll use them when we come to tell our story.  Instead lets consider the other types of point on your list, and consider how to turn them into challenges for your hero:

Something you want someone to do, or to know.

If you want someone to do something, or you want someone to know something, then  there is a reason why you want this.  And specifically there has to be a benefit for the person you want to change – or a cost if they don’t change.

This can be described with a challenge.  For example, consider our salesman from earlier.  One thing I want him to change is the way he sells our product.  I want him to sell, not just the product, but our full range of consultancy services too.  So I want to set up a challenge where, if he sells the consultancy product, he would benefit.  Perhaps something like : “The customer looks at the brochure and says ‘I’m not sure.  This all seems very complicated.  I don’t think a small company like ours would be able to work out where to begin integrating it’.  - the benefit is clear, if the salesman sells consultancy services, he is more likely to win the deal.  If the salesman doesn’t sell the consultancy services he has more – and harder – work to do in order to win (and his commission is probably smaller to boot)

Something that has (or is about to change)

Is something external to the person in question (a law, the economic climate, a customer’s product – even our salesman’s companies product, since the salesman in not involved in determining its features) has changed – or is about to change, then the challenge you need to show is a challenge in which the hero’s behaviour has to change as a result of the new situation.

Lets say I want to get the salesman to know that we redesigned some of the windows and buttons in our software and that the new version is now easier to use than our competition’s.  For this, I might want to show the challenge of selling the old software to someone used to the competitors system.

By translating each of the points you listed above into a challenge, you should now have a list of challenges for your hero to face.

Now order them.  There are two things to consider when ordering the challenges.  The first is to try to order them by size.  Make each challenge bigger.  The second is that you are trying to lead up to your conclusion.

Between your chalenges and your conclusion are two parts of the story.  The point of biggest failure – when all seems lost, and the victory and return home. The point where all seems lost is the largest challenge – the challenge that, without following the message contained in the conclusion, your heros will never succeed.  So for our salesman, the conclusion is “The new software will make your lives easier”.  So the challenge needs to show the salesman’s life being really difficult.  Because we want to show it being difficult, it is probably best that for this challenge, and all those challenges preceding them, he has been trying to sell the old version of the product.  Maybe at the critical moment, where is customer is about to turn him down we have his boss calling up to ask how the pitch is going, and a text come in from his wife asking if she can book the family vacation he promised if he got a good bonus from the sale.

The victory, is then about the path between this impossibly bad situation and the conclusion.  In my example, I might have the boss ask “You did explain about all the features in the new version of the product?” And then have the salesman explain all the new features to the customer.  The features that solve all the problems.

You now have a structure.  But before we move onto the tricks of storytelling which will turn it into a presentation, there is one more point I would like to make:  When your hero faces each of the challenges you have set, he should not succeed – or at least not succeed in the best possible way.  In each of the challenges I give my salesman, the way an ideal salesman would succeed is by saying “The new version of the product has that feature.  Aren’t we brilliant?” – however, the way our salesman succeeds will be by bluster and just about getting the customer to stay in the same room… in short, every challenge is got past, but failed until we get to the point where all is lost.