Story and Structure: Conversation with Leon Conrad

Story and Structure: Conversation with Leon Conrad

Created: Friday, October 21, 2022 posted by at 9:30 am

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Leon Conrad

Leon Conrad
Leon Conrad is a gifted orator, story structure consultant and an inspiring voice-centred communication skills coach who helps people improve their voice use, public speaking and presentation skills. He says, I help people’s thoughts shine more brightly, so they communicate more effectively, and resonate with presence.

In this conversation, Leon talks about his new book, Story and Structure.

Geetesh: Leon, please tell us more about your new book, Story and Structure. Also, can the concepts explored in this book be used to create more compelling PowerPoint-led presentations?

Leon: I’d love to, Geetesh. Thank you. Story and Structure presents a completely new way of looking at story. Using six basic symbols, it maps 18 story structures, shows how they relate, and explains how each fits a different situation, enabling presenters to pick the best story structure to use for the story they need to tell, matching structure, content, and context very precisely.

Story and Structure 01

Story and Structure 01

With presentations, there’s more to a story than icebreakers, rapport-building anecdotes, or well-crafted case studies. It’s important to include them, but what about the rest of the presentation?

Good stories flow from beginning to end. So should good presentations. Why not have yours flow more smoothly by using the most appropriate story structure for your presentation as a whole?

Tell a more compelling story – you’ll give a more compelling PowerPoint-led presentation.

The approach used in Story and Structure will help you ensure that every slide in your deck tells a compelling story.

For example, ask … Will the information on this slide:

  • Present the audience with a problem they can identify with or need to find a solution for?
  • Advance the audience towards their goal?
  • Surprise, intrigue, or puzzle the audience?

If a slide fails on any of these three counts, get rid of it. In live presentations, focus on why the audience needs to know the information, not what the information is. If the audience needs to have the information, move it to a handout (which includes key contact details).

If your slides have more than one element, ask yourself whether the elements can be mapped to a story structure that makes the purpose and narrative clear to the audience. Here’s a checklist:

  • For every problem , is there a solution ?
  • For every surprise or ‘Huh?!’ , is there a a balancing resolution or ‘Aha!’ ?
  • For your presentation as a whole – and for every section of your presentation – is there a clear beginning the mark and a clear ending the mark

Again, if a slide fails on any of these three counts; if it’s just there to inform, move it to a report or a handout and give your audience members a link or a hard copy.

Using the approach outlined in Story and Structure, you can make your presentations more compelling by tapping into the purpose of the story … the search for balance and harmony.

When we discuss storytelling, it’s probably more to do with stories told around camp fires or used for building empathy. How does business storytelling differ from traditional storytelling?

Story and Structure

Story and Structure
Leon: Well-structured business and traditional stories both need compelling storytellers to bring them to life. As business stories and traditional stories mainly differ in content, most people view them differently. In Story and Structure, however, I show that they have more in common than you’d think.

The well-known story of The Three Little Pigs and an academic essay are very different things – but in Story and Structure, I show there’s no difference between the two in terms of structure. Both follow a Quest structure which you can read more about in the book. That same Quest structure can be used to create a compelling PowerPoint presentation that flows because it follows familiar channels we have embodied in us that we delight in using to process and retain information.

The Quest structure

The Quest structure

I’ve seen far too many business presentations structured to introduce speakers, outline credentials, describe problems, solutions, and benefits, and end with a call to action.

It’s like telling the story of The Three Little Pigs and leaving out the Wolf. People understandably do this because they don’t want to dwell on any doubts or uncertainties in the audience which could be countered by credible solutions. However, not only is there no excitement, the overall story isn’t as convincing. You don’t need to deal with ‘skeletons in closets’ but please bring the wolf out of the wardrobe. Acknowledge limitations. Share stories about fabulous failures. Show how they were overcome. You’ll deal more convincingly with the ‘elephants’ of doubt and skepticism in the room when you do.

In Story and Structure, I also show how we use story structures in our everyday lives. Let me give you an example – let me tell you a story …

Sarah’s a sought-after presenter, with a stellar presentation prepared. When she arrives at the venue, the AV is down. There’s no flip chart. The organizers saw it coming but did nothing. The organizers have done a number on her; she decides to make them pay. In other words, she decides to follow a Trickster structure. Sarah summons up all of her professional skills, apologizes profusely but (invoking clause 16a of her contract which covers this contingency and leaves her flush), declines to give the audience anything less than the stellar experience they’ve been led to expect and have paid for. The organizers scrabble; the audience is disappointed, understands, gets a refund, and heads off to the bar. I could spin this out further – how the organizers not only never invite Sarah back, avoid (or try to avoid) paying her that forfeit (and the unfolding Trickster story gets a tragic twist). They see to it that her bookings dwindle. Sarah, in turn, dissuades top speakers in her circle from dealing with them (following another Trickster structure loop). She takes the organizers to court. It feels good to seek justice; get revenge … until it doesn’t anymore.

The Trickster structure loop sets up a vicious circle. The game resets. Nothing changes.

By working with the story structures described in my book, Story and Structure, Sarah could have recognized the Trickster step when she came across it, realized it could lead in several directions, and rather than following a Trickster structure, she could have easily redirected the story so it followed a Trickster Variation structure. Let’s pick up the story from where Sarah gets to the venue, tell it slightly differently and see what happens.

So the organizers surprised Sarah, although it was probably no surprise to them, but Sarah’s a professional, so she’s prepared. No AV? No flip chart? Well, Sarah’s got her voice, her personality, her imagination, her ability to bring her presentation to life through the power of her words, her knowledge of story structure, and her professionalism, leaving people with two stories – the story she came to tell them, and the story of how she turned things around so brilliantly.
Guess which version turns out to be most successful?

All thanks to an awareness of story structures, how story structures work, and how they have relevance to each and every one of us in our everyday lives.

Story and Structure will not only help you use story structures to prepare stellar presentations which flow better; it will also help you adapt and accommodate your audience’s needs more effectively.

Find out more about story structures in Story and Structure: A complete guide. Apply the information set out in the book to the challenges you face in your life so you can face those challenges more flowingly and find more balance and harmony – not only in the way you approach life but also in the way you prepare and deliver presentations.

For more information on how you can use story structures to build more compelling presentations and on how you can develop the storytelling skills you need to bring your voice, your words, and your stories to life in you and in your audience, contact Leon Conrad.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog post or content are those of the authors or the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer, or company.

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