Presentation Storytelling Tips from Steven Johnson’s TED Talk

The beauty of storytelling is the freedom it gives the storyteller to constantly transform the narrative delivery. Watch any TED talk and you’ll quickly realize that there are distinct literary elements working towards the creation of a compelling message and engaging theme. We’ve outlined 3 unique characteristics of Steven Johnson’s TED talk – “How play leads to great inventions” – and how they contribute to a successful presentation.

Chronological Narrative

The content comprising a presentation narrative should always maintain a clear trajectory. Presenters impact their audiences more if there is clarity in the journey from point A to point B. For example, Steven establishes a chronological narrative from the beginning of his TED talk.

“Roughly 43,000 years ago, a young cave bear died in the rolling hills on the northwest border of modern day Slovenia. A thousand years later, a mammoth died in southern Germany.” – Steven Johnson

This opening set the stage for the rest of the TED talk – ensuring listeners that the narrative would adhere to a predictable format and events would occur within a defined timetable.

One example

Some presenters prefer to use one example per main point of their presentation to illustrate the core messages. In the chronological narrative Steven decided to implement in his TED talk, however, a single example alluded to throughout the 7.5-minute presentation proved a more beneficial strategy for both presenter and audience.

“It seems preposterous that you would invent the flute, a tool that created useless vibrations in air molecules. But that is exactly what our ancestors did.” – Steven Johnson

Utilizing the example of the flute, Steven demonstrated his presentation theme – that play is an essential component of innovation and development within society.

Forward-looking conclusion

To increase the durability of your presentation message, conclude with a mention of the future and how your main points relate to it. In the case of Steven’s TED talk topic, play became important to the method of teaching kids in a school environment and encouraging new ideas in a workplace environment.

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Try to make your message and content timeless by increasing the ability of your audience to relate to it. Add an inspirational element with an ending that looks to the future and links your overall theme to a prediction of things to come.

Every story needs a beginning, middle, and end. From the start, chart the path of your presentation information. Where are you going? What’s the ultimate destination? Help your audience connect with the content through a specific or broad example – whichever works best for your presentation. And finally, at the end, give attendees a reason to spread your ideas to their friends, family, and coworkers. For more tips from some of our favorite TED talks, check out the following posts:

Storytelling Lessons from TED: “What a driverless world could look like”

Commonality in a TED Talk: “The experience of absurdity”

Presentation of Possibility: An analysis of Skylar Tibbits’ TED Talk

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