The Storytelling Arc for Presenters

A good story can increase the information retention of your audience by 26%. That is not a small number when it comes to the effectiveness of your presentation. However, many of us fall into the trap of underdeveloped stories. For me this is one of the biggest challenges I face every time I stand before an audience. Somehow no matter how hard I try I always tend to leave my stories half-finished and half delivered.

The key to great stories is understanding an age-old formula to storytelling and then using this formula to create your own. If we want to experience that 26% jump in information retention we have to start by understanding something called the Arc of the Story.

Step 1: Inciting Incident
According to NovelNow an inciting incident is defined as an episode, plot point or event that hooks the reader into the story. This is a crucial part to every story. The inciting Incident is what makes your audience stick with you throughout the remainder of your story. Don’t skimp on this, use this moment to draw in your audience and bring them to the edge of their seats.

Example: I still remember the first time I presented in front of an audience. My hands were sweaty, and my nerves were sky rocketing. As I sat in the front row of my college auditorium, thousands of my peers filled the room and I sat there questioning what the heck had I got myself into.

Step 2: Rising Action
The Rising action in a story is a series of relevant incidents that create suspense, interest, and tension in a narrative. This is going to be the bulk of your story. This is where you develop your characters, you expose character flaws, and highlight character strengths. As a presenter it is important to press in to this section, use your words to paint a picture and draw your audience into the moment you are expressing.

Example: Time seemed to move in slow motion at this point. As I watched my peers fill the room I knew there was no escaping. I began to question my preparation, my abilities, even my clothing choices. I found myself asking why anyone would trust me to speak to this room. Then I heard it, my name was called, and I was being waved onto stage. As I stepped onto stage and looked out over the audience the nerves began to dissipate, I sat down on the stool and begin my presentation.

Step 3: Climax
The Climax, a Greek term meaning “ladder,” is that particular point in a narrative at which the conflict or tension hits the highest point. This is the mountain top of your story. This is the point where you audience either cringes in horror as you describe a fatal error, or cheers with excitement as you unveil your victory. As a presenter this is an opportunity to humanize yourself. Don’t ever hesitate to tell a story that’s climax ends in defeat. People know you have wings, but they want to see that you still get dressed like the rest of us.

Example: As I sat down on the stool I started in to my presentation. The audience was engaging, and I felt like this was my moment. The more comfortable I became the more I began to lean back into my stool. Before I knew it, I was leaning back using just two of the three legs for balance. Anyone who has ever been to grade school knows how bad of an idea this is. We all have memories of that kid in class leaning back in their chair only to melt in total embarrassment when they fall on their back. None the less there I was. I turned the corner to close my presentation and then the unthinkable happened. I still to this day don’t know how, but the two legs that were supporting my stool suddenly slipped from underneath me, and as it always does gravity won. Immediately I crashed to the floor mortified as 3,000 of my classmates broke out in laughter.

Step 4: Falling Action
The falling action of a story is the section of the plot following the climax, in which the tension stemming from the story’s central conflict decreases and the story moves toward its conclusion. For presenters this part of the story is where your audience can take a breather. If you have done your job right you would have created enough tension that they will need an aisle of refuge, so give it to them. Allow them to breathe in the emotion you were feeling in the climax and take them on a journey to the end of the story.

Example: There I sat unsure of what to do. Everything inside of me wanted to run away and transfer schools immediately. But unfortunately, I had already transferred once, and my parents would have killed me if I asked again. Instead I slowly stood to my feet, trying hard to not make eye contact with anyone.

Step 5: Resolution
The Resolution is the part of a story’s plot line in which the problem of the story is resolved or worked out. For presenters this is the time in your story to bring everything full circle and make the point you were trying to illustrate. If you want your story to be more than just a funny moment or a chance for your audience to check their social media, then you have to make it mean something. You have worked so hard to create a great story, don’t blow it by skimping on your resolution.

Example: All of a sudden from the corner of my eye I spotted my teammates, and they were giving me a thumb up and the sign to keep going. That encouragement was just enough to give me the courage to finish my presentation that day. What I learned that day is that no matter what your experience or how much a turn life can take. If you are surrounded by the right people you will always be able to get back up and keep moving forward.

Stories are powerful. They keep your audience connected and humanize you as a presenter. To learn more about how to tell great stories go online to and sign up for our new online course.

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