As we have mentioned before, stories are memorable and action inspiring – two adjectives every presenter likely hopes to hear about their work. Science backs stories too, as they flare the sensory cortex of the brain like a heat wave of colors on a MRI.
Furthermore, story structure is the gutter guard of your presentation, providing direction for the bowling ball that is your main message to hit home for your audience (the bowling pins of this metaphor of course). One particular story structure – the Hero’s Journey – powerfully injects meaning beyond the structure, connecting your product, service or idea to the human experience.
Joseph Campbell, storyteller extraordinaire and author of “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” described the hero story as the only story. The general arc of the Hero’s Journey starts in the known world and progresses through the unknown as the hero confronts trials, reflects on them, and serves the greater good with the knowledge and experience gained through the adventure.
With more than 50 percent of Hollywood movies and a majority of the most-viewed TED talks relying on the Hero’s Journey, it is in the presenter’s best interest to understand the benefits of the story structure.
Here are a few reasons why:
Creates universal structure
Star Wars creator George Lucas intentionally crafted the epic tale following the hero narrative. At the beginning, Luke Skywalker is less than satisfied about his current condition as a moisture farmer on Tatooine, eventually accepting the call to adventure in the form of Princess Leia’s hologram message. (This is the DEPARTURE) In the middle of a hero’s story, contrast abounds. In Star Wars, Luke enters an unknown world, where he tackles the Death Star and saves Princess Leia while he simultaneously makes amends with his villainous father and Death Star advocate, Darth Vader. Although Luke consistently takes action against Vader and stifles his efforts of destruction, he believes Vader is, at his core, good. (This is the INITIATION) Han’s rescue of Luke from Vader sparks the call to action to return from their journey and in the end, the Empire falls to the Rebellion, a testament to the larger theme of Star Wars – that good conquers evil. (This is the RETURN)
Embraces narrative transformation
Nike consistently utilizes the Hero’s Journey in its emotional branding efforts. One tactic they employ involves casting a different mentor or hero. The following video demonstrates how Nike incorporates the Hero’s Journey narrative in its ads.
In the video, Nike portrayed its consumers from the beginning of their fitness journey to their eventual success and the ups and downs in between.
The women in the ad are at the beginning of their fitness journey. They are answering the call to adventure –whether it is an open middle seat at a spin class or a class full of nonjudgmental yoga peers – to improve their health.
During this section of the ad, each woman struggles with self-doubt and begins to confront physical and mental challenges.
At this point, the women not only overcome their obstacles, but they also stumble across their own exercising revelations. In the end, they succeed in their endeavors, returning – changed and inspired – to the known world.
By casting the consumer as both hero and enemy of the narrative, Nike reimagines the time-tested archetype, effectively identifying with anyone who has ever struggled with internal conflicts (a.k.a. everyone).
Establishes trust and empathy
Research shows that stories motivate behavioral changes – prompting experiment participants in one study to donate more money to charities after viewing story-driven public service announcements. Even complex, personal stories, such as those found on StoryCorps, “produce post-narrative donations.” Listen to Michelle Paugh and Trista and Tanya James’ story, which follows the Hero’s Journey narrative. In just over two minutes, the piece takes listeners through the pivotal points of a Hero’s Journey, from the mother’s known world, to her pursuit of the unknown and the lessons she gained along the journey.
Call to Adventure: “My dad passed away when I was 17. My mother still had to take care of the family and so she decided to take the mining class.” (daughter)
The Crossing of the First Threshold: Mother took a job in the mines – a social oddity at the time. “When I was hired, a lot of people thought the only reason women wanted in the mines was to find ‘em a man.” (mother)
The Road of Trials: “I remember one time they sent me and this one man back into a part of the mines that nobody goes into. And he started getting a little too friendly. I told him, “Don’t touch me.” Well the third time he approached me, he put his hands on my shoulders and when he did, I just brought my knee up.” (mother)
The Crossing of the Return Threshold: “If you don’t fight for yourself, ain’t nobody gonna do it for you.” (mother)
Freedom to Live: “You had to make them respect you. You had to prove yourself daily. But I don’t believe in stuff being handed to you. I think you need to work for everything you get.” (mother)
“You kind of brought us up a little the same way.” (daughter)
A people-centric presentation related to the human experience can elicit an in your shoes feeling – elevating empathy, as well as the trust and loyalty of your audience. Want to learn how to direct the emotional experience of your presentation? We’ve got some tips.
There are a variety of story structures out there. But the Hero’s Journey narrative plays to the advantages of the primacy and recency effects. There is a reason to the rhyme your elementary school teachers preached to you about the introduction à body à conclusion paper outline. Research shows that information presented first will convert to long-term memory, while information presented last will convert to short-term memory. In a world where the average listener, two months removed from a presentation, retains only 25 percent of the information they heard, beginning and ending a presentation on memorable notes is crucial for success.
According to authors Chip and Dan Heath, 63 percent of presentation attendees remember stories, while a mere 5 percent remember statistics. So, audience members are more likely to retain information presented at the beginning and end of a presentation AND they are more likely to remember stories. Our suggestion? Consider using the Hero’s Journey story structure.
Still having trouble choosing a storytelling direction for your presentation? Try out these resources: