Rules of thumb about telling stories that transform audiences

Blog post Number 1 in a series.

Nancy Duarte is the founder and CEO of Duarte Design, a firm focused exclusively on presentations that move minds from here to there. In addition to being brilliant at what she does, she is also a fantastic teacher.

She is the author of Resonate, Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences. I consider it the definitive guide to packaging presentations in a story framework. Her insight and understanding is deep enough that rather than review the book once, I’m going to try to break her essential teachings into bite size, accessible pieces.

This, the first in that series, gathers some of her most salient rules of thumb.

15 things that Nancy Duarte knows about creating presentations that move hearts and minds.
  1. Forming connections is an art, and when it’s practiced well, the results can be astounding.
  2. If two products have the same features, the one that appeals to an emotional need will be chosen.
  3. You are not the hero who will save the audience; the audience is your hero.
  4. Creating desire in the audience and then showing how your ideas fill that desire moves people to adopt your perspective. This is the heart of a story.
  5. There is a moment in every story where the character overcomes reluctance to change, leaves the ordinary world, and crosses the threshold into an adventure in a special world.

  6. Clearly contrast who in the audience is when they walk into the room (in their ordinary world) with whom they could be when they leave the room (crossing the threshold into a special world).
  7. Whether a presentation is political, corporate, or academic, the audience consists of four distinct types of people capable of taking action: doers, suppliers, influencers, and innovators. 
  8. “Designing a presentation without an audience in mind is like writing a love letter and addressing it ‘to whom it may concern.'” – Ken Haemer

  9. A big idea is that one key message you want to communicate. It contains the impetus that compels the audience to set a new course with a new compass heading.
  10. No matter how stimulating you make your plea, an audience will not act unless you describe a reward that makes it worthwhile.
  11. Communicating an idea juxtaposed with its polar opposite creates energy.  Moving back and forth between the contradictory poles encourages full engagement from the audience.
  12. Filtering is very important. If you don’t filter your presentation, the audience will respond negatively – because you’re making them work too hard to discern the most important points.

  13. Turn words into pictures.
  14. Looking at a presentation’s structure holistically helps you test whether or not you have one clear big idea bolstered by supporting topics.
  15. “The first draft of anything is shit.” – Ernest Hemingway

Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences
Nancy Duarte
2010, 250 pages

Available from Amazon.

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