Hooks and Stories in Presentations

Have you ever wondered why it’s a good idea to start a presentation with a question?

(See what I did there?)

Ask an audience a good question and they start trying to answer it in their heads. We can’t help it, we are sense-making creatures. Immediately, you create a one-to-one connection with everyone in your audience. You have hooked their attention, and that’s a great start. (By the end of your presentation you should have answered the question, or you’re just a tease!)

Other great hooks you can use at the start of a presentation are puzzles and conflicts. A puzzle is like a good question; it gets us thinking. If you’re talking about your work, tell us about the odd thing you noticed that stood out, that didn’t make sense. Like Isaac Asimov once said, scientific breakthroughs aren’t heralded by “Eureka!” so much as “that’s funny…

Conflict is another great hook: who or what are you up against? What are you fighting for? We are social creatures and we pay particular attention to signs of conflict in our group, which is why so many popular characters in stories are rule breakers and rebels. (If you want to  break the rules in your next project, try this creative tool)

Now you’ve got your audience’s attention, you need to establish trust with them, and that means letting them know something about your character. Stories can do the heavy lifting for you. Don’t tell them you’re resilient, tell them about a moment you overcame a setback. Here are some other stories that can show your character in action:

Well-told stories follow a very few basic patterns. Here’s one very simple story structure you can use:


Into the Woods is the story of Little Red Riding Hood, The Gruffalo and every human learning experience. We start in a safe place, but unfulfilled (that’s Twilight). Think of Luke Skywalker, bored on his uncle’s farm at the start of Star Wars. When adventure comes, we go into the woods, into the Dark, we confront our fears. And that’s where we find the treasure. Bilbo Baggins didn’t find the Ring in a sunlit field, he found it in a deep, dark cave (if it had been lying in the field, someone else would have already picked it up – nothing good is ever easy). We bring the treasure we found back into the light, to make the world a better place.

And here’s another structure; also an arc with rise and fall.

This is a simple pitch story, divided into Now and Future phases:

Problem – right now, here’s what’s wrong.

Opportunity – even so, there’s this chance to make things better.

Practical Steps – but it’s not going to be easy (nothing good ever is)

Promise – if we get it right, this is where we can end up.

Finally, we’re often asked to pitch innovative, high-risk ideas while simultaneously reassuring our audience that they are feasible. These story tips can help you bridge the gap.

More tips on Innovation Stories here.

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