The 5 Principles and 10 Building Blocks of Persuasive Visual Storytelling

Principle 1: Nail Down the Story Before the Slides

In the conventional way of creating slides, you open a blank slide, write in the heading, and start making a list of bullet points. Then you repeat the process again and again as you continue to build out the presentation. Because it’s so easy to create slides and so hard to craft a story, the best way to begin crafting a visual story is to do something that might be difficult for veteran users of PowerPoint—to step away from the slides altogether. When you focus first on nailing down the story—the initial impression you make, the sequence of ideas, the persuasiveness of your case, and what to include and exclude—your slides will be simpler and easier to create.

Countless books have been written about the story, and the topic has seen an upsurge in many professions. Of the many types of stories you could craft, this book focuses first on your strategic story—the singular top-level story that ties together your message from beginning to middle and end. As your story is seamlessly designed into your slides and delivery, the slides themselves become your strategy, which will achieve the big-picture results you want. Later in this book, you’ll also use anecdotes, which are brief stories that make a quick emotional connection or help you illustrate your point in a very relatable way.

The strategic story template you’ll use in this book includes three sections, or acts, that form a classic story structure and correspond to the beginning, middle, and end of your presentation. Each act in the template is delineated by a horizontal bar extending across the page, as shown in Figure 3-3.


FIGURE 3-3 The BBP Story Template incorporates a classic three-act story structure.

Act I begins your story by setting up all of the essential elements that compose every story, including the setting, the main character, an unresolved state of affairs, and the desired outcome. Act II drives the story forward by picking up on the unresolved state of affairs in Act I and developing it through the actions and reactions of the main character in response to changing conditions. Act III ends the story by framing a climax and a decision that the main character must face to resolve the situation, revealing something about his or her character. This time-tested structure keeps your audience interested in your presentation and eager to find out what happens next.

This three-part story structure follows natural patterns that underlie the way we think and understand. No one needs special training or technology to understand a classic story structure because it’s the way humans have been communicating with one another throughout history. A story structure frames the context for communication and focuses attention by making information specific and relevant to an audience.

The idea of bringing together a story and slides is a big shift from the way we tend to use PowerPoint. For years, when we had a great deal of information to present, the default template made it easy for us to make list after list, slide after slide until we ran out of information. The problem with that approach is that when we aim to persuade, information alone doesn’t cut it—people want to know why they should care, what’s in it for them, and who they are connecting with.

And as we created lists of information, we didn’t always connect the dots between the pieces of information, forgetting the essential art of tying everything together in a single coherent message that runs from beginning to middle to end. A story structure solves the problem by tying together scattered pieces of information into a meaningful presentation.

The research principles described in Chapter 2 have been around more than 50 years and the idea of a story structure thousands of years longer. These are proven ideas and techniques that work—the present challenge is how to make the concepts practical as you work on your next presentation. The fundamentals of classic story structure and the screenwriting process have already been incorporated into the story template to help get your job done quickly and efficiently.