Five elements of a story (and how to use them in a business presentation)

Storytelling is the interactive art of using words and actions to reveal the elements and images of a story while encouraging the listener’s imagination. — Definition by the National Storytelling Network

Most novelists and movie directors rely upon 5 key elements to ensure a consistent story, allow the action to develop and let the audience emotionally engage: character, setting, plot, theme, and style.

five_elements

And, though “telling a story” is often associated with delivering fictive content, the same components can be explored by business presenters too.

  1. The character is the individual (or several of them) that the story is about. The answer to the “who?” question. Many narratives introduce protagonists and antagonists — respectively the main characters of the story and their opposites. Note that a protagonist does not necessarily represents the “good guy”, though it’s always the one with whom the reader can identify himself or herself.
    Depending on the topic of your business presentation, the protagonist may be you, your company or even your product, while the antagonist may e.g. be a competitor, a demanding customer or even an unfavorable market condition.
  2. The setting is the “where? and when?” of a story. It is the time and place during which a  story takes place. This can be in the past, the present or the future, and in an imaginary or a real-life location.
    Introducing a setting with which your business partners or customers are familiar, e.g. a specific technology configuration or a market segment, can help them to better visualize the story and feel connected to the plot. As such, customer testimonials and case studies may be good means for setting the scene for your presentation.
  3. The plot defines the structure of a book, movie or talk. The sequence of events and (inter)actions that make up your storyline. Many good plots are centered around a conflict or a problem (the “what?”), the ways in which the characters attempt to resolve the problem (the “how?”), the actual implementation of the solution (a.k.a. the climax), and what happens with them when the conflict is no longer existing (“they all lived happily ever after”.)
    As mentioned above, characters do not necessarily have to be human. So, explaining how your products or services have been applied to solve a specific customer problem may prove an excellent plot for a business presentation.
  4. The theme is the main idea, the central message,  the answer to the “why?” question(s). It’s what the writer, the director, or the presenter wants his audience to learn from the story.
    It’s the umbrella statement of the message house you’ve prepared, that will translate into the conclusion and/or the call for action at the end of your discourse.
  5. And finally, there’s a style element in each presentation you deliver. “How?” do you want to get your message through? How will you tap your audience’s imagination? What will be the tone of your words? What mood or atmosphere do you want to create with them? Is the evidence you provide factual or anecdotal?

A few related articles (though most posts on this blog touch upon this topic):

I have also created an infographic that summarizes this post. You may download the file by clicking on the image below (or hitting the download tab on top of this page).

Elements of a story infographic L1

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3 thoughts on “Five elements of a story (and how to use them in a business presentation)

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