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Last updated on 2/18/22

Structure your content like a pro

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Your story, the one you are going to tell, obviously isn’t a romantic comedy or a fairy tale, and it might be more abstract (the hero becomes an idea, an undertaking), or more complex (the hero is multiple = a community).

Learn from example

Let's carry out the same exercise as we have with The Little Mermaid, but this time by overlaying a conference speech onto the storytelling principles.

Watch Sir Ken Robinson's speech about the education system which is the most viewed TED Talk of all time — and we'll analyse it afterwards.

Now let's discuss how Sir Ken Robinson uses the art of storytelling in his talk:

The component parts:

  • Who is the hero? ➡️ The children

  • What quest are they undertaking? ➡️ Learning, trying out, discovering

  • For what objective? ➡️ To understand and do what they enjoy

  • Who or what are the auxiliaries? ➡️Passion, interests, intrinsic motivation, social changes, encouragement by others

  • Who or what are the opponents? ➡️ The traditional school system, the culture of failure, the mismatch with the world of work

The structure:

  • The initial situation: All children are creative and aren’t afraid of making mistakes.

  • Cause for concern: If you’re not prepared to make mistakes you’ll never do anything original. But that’s what the education system teaches: in growing up we lose our capacity to be creative.

  • Incidents and struggle: The system is rigidly hierarchical, with maths and selection tools at the top of the ladder. According to this paradigm, businesses and the school stigmatise failure. Many creative and intelligent people don’t know that’s what they are.

  • Resolution: The world is undergoing a revolution because our concept of intelligence has changed. More and more, it’s embracing aspects like empathy or creativity. 

  • (Re)solved situation (or solution): We must, therefore, construct an education system along those lines.

If the five-stage structure seems to you to be too complicated to adapt to your situation, tell yourself that it amounts to this:

  • Capturing attention with the starting point.

  • Arousing the desire for change with the problem.

  • Carrying out the audience's commitment with the resolved situation, or the solution. 

Brainstorm to flesh out the content of your presentation

You should already be well advanced in your work process since you’ll have:

  1. A page with all the information about the context of your presentation.

  2. A page on which you have filled in the three-column table “Before”, “During” and “After”.

  3. A page on which you have listed the components (hero, quest, goal, auxiliaries, opponents) and the structure (initial situation, cause for concern, incidents, resolution, final situation; or, more simply starting point, problem, solution) of your content.

You have done the greater part of the work!

Once you have the skeleton, you only need to fill in the gaps.

And, there are several ways to do this. You can embellish your story with:

  • Anecdotes

  • Quotations

  • Key figures

These are components with a high potential since they stand out, and that’s the main thing your audience will retain.

Moreover, the story of the hyperactive girl who became a world-renowned professional dancer may have affected you most in Ken Robinson’s talk. You may have also noted his humour when he regularly interrupted the flow of his story to slip in a joke. Remember the moment when he talked about Shakespeare as a child?

That’s why it’s very important to have, within your overall story (from point A to point B), several mini-stories: brief moments when you depart from the facts to relate something that inspires the audience.

To nourish your inspiration and help you with this, don’t hesitate to copy your betters, and to watch lots of videos of successful talks. You will find lots of them on the TED.com website.

Organize your content using a mind map

Trace out the complete path of your content

First of all, put each element of your content (ideas, anecdotes, facts etc.) onto Post-it notes or scraps of paper.

You don’t have to write out a whole idea on a Post-it note. Instead of that, draw on a keyword that immediately brings the idea to mind for you. You can even use a diagram or drawing if you prefer.

If you can, choose a different color Post-it note for each type of content: yellow for ideas, green for anecdotes, pink for jokes, blue for quotations or key figures etc.

This will help you see the main component of your talk and rebalance it if necessary.

To achieve this, put the initial situation (point A) Post-it note at the beginning, at the top left, and the final situation (point B) Post-it note at the end, at the bottom right.

Arrange all the other Post-it notes between these two, in a meaningful order, one that you see as being logical and the most convincing.

Arrange your Post-its from point A to point B.
Stick the Post-it with the initial situation in the top left corner and stick the Post-it with the final situation in the bottom right corner.

Reorganize it visually to remember it easily

You must, as far as possible, avoid having to take notes with you to help you on the day; that’s hardly ever a good idea. So, you need to remember what you're going to say.

But, don’t learn it by heart. It mustn’t seem to be recited.

But, how do you remember something without learning it by heart?

By making a mind map!

To do this, rearrange the Post-it notes (or scraps of paper) differently: in a tree structure.

This will enable you to visualise the main stages that structure your content.

  1. Find a space you can use: a table, wall, window etc.

  2. On the left-hand side, place the starting Post-it note, that of the initial situation, point A.

  3. Make the main branches spring from this spot and include your strong ideas, the three or four main themes and the most important points.

  4. Along these branches, place the Post-it notes for the categories #anecdotes, #key figures, #jokes, and other components of your personal story. These are the twigs!

Rearrange the Post-its into a mind map.
Use a mind map to create a visual representation of the main stages of your story.

The mind map allows you to easily memorize the place where you have put any particular anecdote in relation to your main theme. The structure and visual representation of your content will seem so logical and meaningful, that you won’t have any difficulty remembering it.

Let’s recap!

  • Your story can be more abstract or complex than a tale.

  • In this case, the 5-part structure allows you to capture your audience's attention with the initial situation, arouse a desire for change, and carry the audience with you to the solution.

  • To embellish your story with striking facts that will make them more memorable, you should always include several mini-stories within your larger one.

  • To organize your content:

    • Put each idea on a Post-it, using a different color for each type of content. Stick the first Post-it with the starting situation in the top-left corner and the Post-it with the end situation in the bottom-right corner.

    • Arrange the other Post-its in between the two in a way that makes sense.

  • Use the mind map to memorize your content.

The first part of the course is complete. We will see you again after the quiz to look at how to prepare effectively!

Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement