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:

The back of a roll of wallpaper

“As a trafficker in climaxes and thrills and characterization and wonderful dialogue and suspense and confrontations, I had outlined the Dresden story many times.

The best outline I ever made, or anyway the prettiest one, was on the back of a roll of wallpaper.

I used my daughter’s crayons, a different color for each main character. One end of the wallpaper was the beginning of the story, and the other end was the end, and then there was all that middle part, which was the middle.” ― Slaughterhouse Five,  Kurt Vonnegut

Although, most of the time I don’t have a roll of wallpaper at hand, it’s certainly a good practice — if not an absolute must — to start building your presentation with another tool than PowerPoint, Keynote or Prezi. All of these great programs are to be categorized as visualization software. They are perfectly suited for creating, animating and flipping through your slides, but they offer (too) limited functions for problem analysis, mindmapping, and storyboarding.

Wikipedia defines a storyboard as “a graphic organizer in the form of illustrations or images displayed in sequence for the purpose of pre-visualizing a motion picture, animation, motion graphic or interactive media sequence,” and — take this from me — you don’t have to be a professional graphic artist to transform your ideas into a storyboard for your speech of presentation.

There are some great (free) software tools available for building mindmaps and storyboards (e.g. the ones mentioned in the lists below). And if you don’t want your creativity hampered by the capabilities of your laptop or tablet: a whiteboard, a flip chart or a large piece of paper, a set of index cards or post-it notes, and a few crayons or colored markers will also do the job. Or just start drawing on a roll of wallpaper or the back of a napkin


More reading: