I have never seen a movie where the story was structured like a document. I can’t imagine that anyone would buy a ticket for something that starts with the introduction of all characters, followed by an agenda. I’ve never seen a TED speaker starting with an agenda slide, either. But we all know that with presentations, this document ‘’story” structure is very common! We’re just so used to it, having always done it that way – without really asking what the audience wants to see. This reminds me of the movie ‘The invention of Lying’. I will not spoil it, but there is a scene where they produce a movie exactly like a document (a shame that it’s not on Netflix, meaning that it basically doesn’t exist anymore).

When people start working on their presentation, they usually begin with opening PowerPoint and writing notes on their slides. At this point the presentation is mainly for the presenter to throw notes into some sort of a structure. The sad thing is that this will barely change (maybe some colors here and there), until it will be presented to an audience. Well, at least that is what it often looks like. This is a horrible experience, not only for your audience, but also for you. No wonder no one likes presenting, because who enjoys presenting that way.

In a way, PowerPoint made you do it this way. When you open a new PowerPoint file, the basic slides are Title Slide, Title & Content and Header Slide, and so on. Before Office 365 it also had a standardized Agenda Slide. This is still the case with most corporate templates. They are all built with document-like structures, so it’s only follows that you would kick off your presentation that way. But seriously, pro tip for Microsoft: Let the user start by picking a structure.

Let’s change the way we structure our presentations.

Here is one way we can start: We can look to the movie industry, and just copy one of their story structures to use in our presentation. A good example are those movies that start in the middle, ‘in medias res’. This Latin phrase literally means ‘into the middle of things’, and it’s quite commonly used for movies. Think of Fight Club, Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, (and many more)! You start with showing your audience a scene in the middle, so they can wonder how that came about. Then you go back to the beginning and have them hooked because – if done well – they want to know what had happened before.

You can create the same experience with your presentations. Start with a bold statement, or maybe show them part of the product, a teaser. Then you can go back to the beginning and tell the story behind it all. When you reach your starting slide again, you continue from there. And you can play with this too. Just like in the movies, the situation is never what is seems to be! Compared with a document-like presentation, presenting like this is a lot of fun!

My homework for you:

Go watch a movie, series or documentary, and try to discover the structure of the story. Find out how you can use that approach for your own presentations. Stop presenting what should be shared as a document – and start telling stories.