Internet Nancy Duarte speaks of how to structure an inspiring talk SUDHAMAHI REGUNATHAN

“The future is not a place where we are going to go, it is a place we create,” says Nancy Duarte, author and former CEO of Duarte Designs, in a compelling 18 minute address on TED Talks. In “The Secret Structure of Great Talks”, she begins with the idea of changing the world. In essence what is the world?

The world is the area within which you live. That makes the whole task meaningful, for if you change the world you are living in then you have made the choice for the future!

“If you can communicate an idea in a manner that it resonates, change will happen and you can change the world...changing the world is not simple. It does not happen with one person. The idea has to spread...and the most effective way is through stories,” says Duarte.

The secret is to incorporate a story into the presentation. Duarte studied boring presentations and interesting cinema and drew some conclusions.

The presentation needs a structure with a beginning, a middle and an end. The hero is not the presenter, but the audience is, and for this Duarte draws from Joseph Campbell's portrait of the hero. She says there are many stages: it is an ordinary world where there comes a call to adventure. It is followed by a refusal of that call. Then a mentor comes along and they cross the threshold. The presenter is thus the mentor, who helps the audience (the hero) move forward. “The structure is that you have a likeable hero who has a desire. They encounter roadblocks and once they are crossed, they emerge transformed,” says Duarte.

When Duarte came across Freytag's figure for a dramatic story structure, which is much like an inverted cone with its peak being the climax, she began thinking along the lines for a diagram or shape for a perfect presentation.

As she recounts how she hit upon it, her eyes fill with the sheer excitement of it. She overlaid two speeches from two different time periods and contexts on it (Martin Luther King's “I have a Dream” and Steve Job's I Phone speech) and her shape lived up to it. As she shows the diagram it begins with a short base line followed by three inverted cylinders alternating with three upturned cylinders and peaking off at the top with a short parallel to the base line, but way above.

The base line begins with saying what is and you need to compare it with what could be. “You need to make this gap as big as possible. Here is the past, here is what has happened, but look at our need to highlight the loftiness of what could be. The rest of your presentation should support that.

And then you have to keep this contrast between what is and what could be. What you are trying to do is to make this status quo unappealing, abnormal and you want to draw them to the world where your idea works.” Durate says people are resistant to change and that is why you have to keep moving back and forth, similar to how you sail against the wind. The last bit is on the action plan, how the world would be at the end of it.

With the shape in place, Duarte goes on to analyse Steve Job's speech. First, he introduces variety by having video clips and demos not to mention a guest speaker at the end. Next he has the audience clapping and laughing which means they are listening to him, Third, he begins by modelling the response he wants from the audience by exclaiming about how awesome the idea is. Martin Luther King used repetition, well known metaphors and songs to drive home the point in his speech.

The bottom line is that we all are likeable heroes with a desire, we encounter road blocks and we resign ourselves to that fate. Beat it and emerge transformed, is Duarte's call. She relates her personal story to clinch it.