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Scott Schwertly

Presentation Storytelling Lessons From Hollywood

Jul 25 2014, 09:00 AM by

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“Most good movies are about the style, tone and vision of their makers. A director will strike a chord in your imagination, and you will be compelled to seek out the other works. Directors become like friends.” - Roger Ebert

Speaking for all of humanity: we love stories. In fact, studies have shown that stories increase audience retention by up to 26%, which is why we encourage presenters to share an experience or weave a tale rather than deliver a series of snooze-inducing facts. For storytelling inspiration, there is no better place to turn to than the magic of Hollywood. Since moving pictures began, we have turned to them to be inspired, engaged, and amused. Wouldn’t it be nice if our presentations were more like seeing a matinee?
Learn The Basics From Pixar
Whether you are sharing a story in a conference room or in a theater, there are ways to tighten your narrative and make your tale compelling. One of our favorite resources is a list of 22 storytelling tips from Pixar; an animation studio that has made more people cry than stubbed toes or onions combined. What are some of our favorites?
  • #5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You'll feel like you're losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

  • #15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

  • #16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don't succeed? Stack the odds against.
Watch A Classic: “The Indianapolis” Scene from Jaws
Want to see what an incredible story looks like with the magic of Hollywood? It’s gritty, straight-forward, and more compelling than you can ever imagine. If you want to learn how to do more with words in about 4 minutes than most people can do with 10 presentations, there is no better scene than the story of “The Indianapolis” from Jaws, delivered by the impeccable Robert Shaw:

Apply a Theme
Storytelling in movies (and in general) relies on themes to convey larger ideas. For example: man vs. man, good vs. evil, and the triumph of love. What is the theme behind your message? What challenges have you or your company faced to get where you are now? Uncovering your theme can inspire you to find a compelling story hidden beneath your stats and facts. From there, you can begin to tell a story that engages your audience.
Pop Some Popcorn
“I think cinema, movies, and magic have always been closely associated. The very earliest people who made film were magicians.” - Francis Ford Coppola

Sometimes the best way to learn from the movies is to revisit your old favorites and analyze what makes their story so compelling. Consider watching 1-2 of your top picks and asking:
  • How did they create a beginning, middle, and end that kept you enthralled?

  • What is the movie’s theme?

  • Why did the characters engage you?

  • How did you feel when the movie ended?

After building a theme and feeling inspired by your favorite narratives, you may discover that your presentation has a blockbuster story to share. Push yourself to include storytelling elements inspired by Hollywood during your next presentation; we promise it will keep your audience entertained.

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