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Great Presentations Share Similar Structure

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, February 9, 2012

What do the "I Have a Dream" speech by Martin Luther King Jr., The Gettysburg Address, and Steve Jobs' 2007 presentation launching the iPhone have in common?

According to an expert on presentation design, they share a structure that seems to be common to the most successful presentations. And successfully communicated ideas, she believes are what change the world. Nancy Duarte says ideas are best conveyed by stories, and audiences are moved by presentations that incorporate stories. They need a beginning, a middle and an end, and it helps when they include colorful imagery, a combination of familiar and novel material, metaphors, and a sparkling moment or two. And as presenter, she says, you have to remember you are not the star, the audience is. "You're not Luke Skywalker," she says. "You're Yoda." You're the mentor who brings the audience along to your exciting, life-changing idea.

But that's not all. Duarte says she studied great speeches, plays, presentations and literature for two years, and discovered a specific structure in the most successful. These stirring pieces first present what is, then move to the loftiest ideation of what could be. The contrast of the unsatisfactory status quo and the inspiring ideal is repeated several times. It moves back and forth, like a sailing ship catching the wind. The end combines a call to action and possibility of ideal achievement, put forth in a dramatic or poetic way.

Watch Duarte's provocative TED.com presentation on "The Secret Structure of Great Talks." She sums up saying, "The future isn't a place you are going to go. It's a place you create."

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