In an earlier entry on this blog, I listed the character as one of the 5 key elements upon which novelists, movie directors, as well as professional presenters rely to let their audience emotionally engage.

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 opponents.

Introducing one or more characters is often a great way to personalize your message and add “what’s at stake?” tension to your story. Depending on the topic of your presentation, the protagonist may be you, your company or even your product, while the antagonist could be a competitor, a demanding customer or even an unfavorable market condition.

As such, I have enriched many of my business talks and blog posts by telling about what happened to “a friend”, “a colleague”, or “a customer of mine”. Characters may be fictive, but you’ll feel more confident and earn more credibility when talking about real persons. Of course, you don’t have to mention their names – particularly when the protagonist or the antagonist appears in a not-very-flattering situation or gets involved in an embarrassing incident.

If you’re a frequent visitor of this site, you may remember the posts below, in which I used the exploits of my colleagues for introducing notorious do’s and don’ts of giving a business presentation. Though names and characters have been anonymized, all these stories report on real-life events that I witnessed personally:

This weekend I walked into a French LEGO store. For more than 80 years, LEGO toys have engaged kids in creative play, encouraging them to imagine, invent and explore (see for example the 1970’s letter from Lego to parents below.) That’s why their flagship store always is a good place to breathe the air of creativity – and in this case, get inspiration for a new blog post.


(click to enlarge)

Incidentally, I stumbled upon the Build-A-Minifigure bar. By combining a broad variety of heads, torsos, legs, hair, hats and accessories, everyone can design and purchase his/her own LEGO character(s).


It made me think about another article I wrote about “creating personas for audience-centric story design,” in which I explained how defining personas may help you to tell a better story. Putting yourself into the shoes of (some in) your audience will help you better understand what they think, believe, do, feel and need.

Suddenly, while having an Aha! moment at the Minifigure bar of the LEGO store, I figured out why I had intuitively borrowed a LEGO image to illustrate this old blog post.

And, then I realized that I might have run into the perfect tool for fleshing-out personas of my audience, and for synthesizing the protagonists and antagonists of my story.

B.Y.O.C. = Bring (or Build, or Buy) Your Own Character…


Creating personas for audience-centric story design

“In this age of the customer, the only sustainable competitive advantage is knowledge of and engagement with customers.” – David M. Cooperstein, Forrester Research

Not so long ago, I participated to an ideation session in which we used personas to represent different user types of a new application. In user-centered design and marketing, personas are fictional characters, created to represent classes of users that might use (or appreciate) a site, brand, product, or service in a similar way. Sketching imaginary characters with a name, a face, and a story makes it easier for people to generate and evaluate ideas. Musing about a day in the life of Fiona Wright, “a middle-aged female manager with two digital native children, who’s interested in technology and gastronomy” could e.g. facilitate brainstorming about the functionality and the GUI of a new restaurant finder app. Defining and fleshing-out personas may also help you with personalizing your presentation for a specific audience, and building a narrative that resonates with a number of (possible) archetype customers in the room.


Starting from a sheet with made-up demographic information, such as their name (or nickname), age, gender and family situation (some marketers even search the web for a picture of a look-alike), these are a few other questions to ask and – consequently – assumptions to make about your targets:

  • What is their job, level of seniority and role in their company or organization?
  • What do they do in their free time? What are their personal interests?
  • What does an average day in their life look like?
  • What do they value most? What are their goals? How do they get motivated?
  • What are their main challenges and pain points in their job? In their daily lives?
  • What could be their most common objections to your product or service?

The answers to the above questions will empower you to tell a better story, by putting yourself into the shoes of (some in) your audience and establishing an emotional connection with them – as they’ll help you better understand what they think, believe, do, feel and need. In older posts I have described a few tools for characterizing, predicting and influencing the reactions of people in the room. Drawing a power quadrant, an influencer quadrant, and a personality quadrant for each of the personas you create will enable you to adapt your content and presentation style to their anticipated behavior. More reading: