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TEDxEast

Nancy Duarte: The secret structure of great talks

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From the "I have a dream" speech to Steve Jobs' iPhone launch, many great talks have a common structure that helps their message resonate with listeners. In this talk, presentation expert Nancy Duarte shares practical lessons on how to make a powerful call-to-action.

- CEO, presentation designer
Nancy Duarte believes that ideas are the most powerful tools people have. Her passion is to help every person learn to communicate their world-changing idea effectively. Full bio

It's really, really great to be here.
00:12
You have the power to change the world.
00:14
I’m not saying that to be cliché,
00:16
you really have the power
to change the world.
00:18
Deep inside of you,
every single one of you
00:21
has the most powerful device known to man.
00:23
And that's an idea.
00:27
So a single idea, from the human mind,
00:29
it could start a groundswell,
00:32
it could be a flash point for a movement
00:33
and it can actually rewrite our future.
00:36
But an idea is powerless
00:39
if it stays inside of you.
00:42
If you never pull that idea out
for others to contend with,
00:44
it will die with you.
00:47
Now, maybe some of you guys
have tried to convey your idea
00:49
and it wasn't adopted, it was rejected,
00:52
and some other mediocre
or average idea was adopted.
00:54
And the only difference between those two
is in the way it was communicated.
00:57
Because if you communicate an idea
in a way that resonates,
01:01
change will happen,
and you can change the world.
01:04
In my family, we collect
these vintage European posters.
01:07
Every time we go to Maui,
we go to the dealer there,
01:10
and he turns these great big posters.
01:13
I love them. They all have one idea
01:14
and one really clear visual
that conveys the idea.
01:16
They are about the size of a mattress.
They're really big.
01:19
They're not as thick as a mattress,
but they're big.
01:22
And the guy will tell the story
as he turns the pages.
01:24
And this one time
I was flanked by my two kids
01:27
and he turns the page
and this poster is underneath,
01:29
and right when I lean forward and say,
01:32
"Oh my God, I love this poster,"
01:34
both of my kids jumped back
and they are like,
01:36
"Oh my God, mom, it's you."
01:38
And this is the poster.
01:40
(Laughter)
01:41
See, I'm like "Fire it up!"
01:42
The thing I loved
about this poster was the irony.
01:45
Here's this chick all fired up,
headed into battle --
01:47
as the standard bearer --
01:50
and she's holding these
little Suavitos baking spices,
01:51
like something so seemingly insignificant,
01:54
though she's willing to risk, you know,
life and limb to promote this thing.
01:57
So if you are to swap out
those little Suavitos baking spices
02:02
with a presentation --
02:05
Yeah, it's me, pretty fired up.
02:07
I was fired up about presentations
02:09
back when it wasn't cool
to be fired up about presentations.
02:11
I really think they have the power
to change the world
02:14
when you communicate
effectively through them.
02:16
And changing the world is hard.
02:19
It won't happen with just one person
with one single idea.
02:21
That idea has got to spread,
or it won't be effective.
02:24
So it has to come out of you
02:28
and out into the open for people to see.
02:30
And the way that ideas are conveyed
the most effectively is through story.
02:33
You know, for thousands of years,
02:38
illiterate generations would pass on
their values and their culture
02:39
from generation to generation,
02:43
and they would stay intact.
02:44
So there's something kind of magical
about a story structure
02:46
that makes it so that when it's assembled,
02:49
it can be ingested and then recalled
02:51
by the person who's receiving it.
02:53
So basically a story,
you get a physical reaction;
02:56
your heart can race, your eyes can dilate,
03:00
you could talk about,
"Oh, I got a chill down my spine"
03:03
or, "I could feel it
in the pit of my stomach."
03:05
We actually physically react
when someone is telling us a story.
03:08
So even though the stage is the same,
a story can be told,
03:11
but once a presentation is told,
it completely flatlines.
03:13
And I wanted to figure out why.
03:16
Why is it that we physically sit
with rapt attention during a story,
03:18
but it just dies for a presentation.
03:21
So I wanted to figure out, how do you
incorporate story into presentations.
03:24
So we've had thousands of presentations
back at the shop --
03:27
hundreds of thousands
of presentations, actually,
03:30
so I knew the context
of a really bad presentation.
03:32
I decided to study cinema and literature,
03:35
and really dig in
and figure out what was going on
03:38
and why it was broken.
03:40
So, I want to show you
some of the findings
03:42
that led up to what I've uncovered
as a presentation form.
03:45
So it was obvious to start with Aristotle,
03:50
he had a three-act structure,
a beginning, a middle and an end.
03:52
We studied poetics and rhetoric,
03:55
and a lot of presentations don't even
have that in its most simple form.
03:56
And then when I moved on
to studying hero archetypes,
04:00
I thought, "OK, the presenter is the hero,
04:02
they're up on the stage,
they're the star of the show."
04:04
It's easy to feel, as the presenter,
that you're the star of the show.
04:07
I realized right away,
that that's really broken.
04:10
Because I have an idea,
I can put it out there,
04:13
but if you guys don't grab that idea
and hold it as dear,
04:16
the idea goes nowhere
and the world is never changed.
04:18
So in reality,
the presenter isn't the hero,
04:21
the audience is the hero of our idea.
04:23
So if you look at
Joseph Campbell's hero's journey,
04:26
just in the front part, there were
some really interesting insights there.
04:29
So there is this likable hero
in an ordinary world,
04:32
and they get this call to adventure.
04:35
So the world is
kind of brought out of balance.
04:36
And at first they're resistant.
04:39
They're like, "I don't know
if I want to jump into this,"
04:40
and then a mentor comes along
04:43
and helps them move
from their ordinary world
04:44
into a special world.
04:46
And that's the role of the presenter.
04:48
It's to be the mentor.
You're not Luke Skywalker, you're Yoda.
04:49
You're the one
that actually helps the audience
04:52
move from one thing
and into your new special idea,
04:55
and that's the power of a story.
04:58
So in its most simple structure,
it's a three-part structure of a story.
05:01
You have a likable hero who has a desire,
05:05
they encounter a roadblock
05:07
and ultimately they emerge, transform,
and that's the basic structure.
05:09
But it wasn't until I came across
a Gustav Freytag's pyramid --
05:14
he drew this shape in 1863.
05:18
Now, he was a German dramatist ...
05:21
he was a German dramatist
05:24
and he believed
there is a five-act structure,
05:25
which has an exposition, a rising action,
05:28
a climax, a falling action
and a denouement,
05:31
which is the unraveling
or the resolution of the story.
05:34
I love this shape.
So we talk about shapes.
05:37
A story has an arc --
well, an arc is a shape.
05:39
We talk about classical music
having a shapeliness to it.
05:41
So I thought, hey,
if presentations had a shape,
05:45
what would that shape be?
05:47
And how did the greatest
communicators use that shape,
05:49
or do they use a shape?
05:52
So I'll never forget,
it was a Saturday morning.
05:53
After all this study --
it was a couple of years of study --
05:56
I drew a shape.
05:58
And I was like,
"Oh my gosh, if this shape is real,
06:00
I should be able to take
two completely different presentations
06:02
and overlay it, and it should be true."
06:05
So I took the obvious,
06:07
I took Martin Luther King's
"I Have a Dream" speech,
06:08
and I took Steve Jobs'
2007 iPhone launch speech,
06:11
I overlaid it over it, and it worked.
06:13
I sat in my office, just astounded.
06:16
I actually cried a little,
06:17
because I was like,
"I've been given this gift,"
06:19
and here it is,
06:22
this is the shape of a great presentation.
06:23
Isn't it amazing?
06:26
(Laughter)
06:28
I was crying.
06:29
I want to walk you through it,
it's pretty astounding.
06:30
There is a beginning, a middle and an end,
and I want to walk you through it.
06:33
Because the greatest communicators --
I went through speeches, everything --
06:36
I can overlay the shape.
06:40
Even the Gettysburg Address
follows the shape.
06:41
At the beginning of any presentation,
you need to establish what is.
06:43
You know, here's the status quo,
here's what's going on.
06:47
And then you need
to compare that to what could be.
06:49
You need to make that gap
as big as possible,
06:52
because there is this commonplace
of the status quo,
06:55
and you need to contrast that
with the loftiness of your idea.
06:58
So it's like, you know,
here's the past, here's the present,
07:01
but look at our future.
07:04
Here's a problem,
but look at that problem removed.
07:06
Here's a roadblock,
let's annihilate the roadblock.
07:09
You need to really amplify that gap.
07:12
This would be like
the inciting incident in a movie.
07:14
That's when suddenly
the audience has to contend
07:17
with what you just put out there:
07:19
"Wow, do I want to agree
with this and align with it or not?"
07:20
And in the rest of your presentation
should support that.
07:23
So the middle goes back and forth,
07:27
it traverses between
what is and what could be,
07:29
what is and what could be.
07:31
Because what you are trying to do
07:33
is make the status quo
and the normal unappealing,
07:34
and you're wanting to draw them
07:37
towards what could be
in the future with your idea adopted.
07:39
Now, on your way to change the world,
people are going to resist.
07:42
They're not going to be excited,
they may love the world the way it is.
07:45
So you'll encounter resistance.
07:49
That's why you
have to move back and forth.
07:50
It's similar to sailing.
07:52
When you're sailing against the wind
and there is wind resistance,
07:54
you have to move your boat back and forth,
and back and forth.
07:57
That's so you can capture the wind.
08:00
You have to actually
capture the resistance
08:02
coming against you when you're sailing.
08:04
Now interesting,
if you capture the wind just right
08:06
and you set your sail just right,
08:08
your ship will actually
sail faster than the wind itself.
08:10
It is a physics phenomenon.
08:12
So by planting in there
08:14
the way they're going to resist
between what is and what can be,
08:15
is actually going to draw
them towards your idea
08:18
quicker than should you not do that.
08:20
So after you've moved back and forth
between what is and what could be,
08:22
the last turning point
is a call to action,
08:26
which every presentation should have,
but at the very end.
08:28
You need to describe the world
as a new bliss.
08:30
"This is utopia with my idea adopted."
08:33
"This is the way
the world is going to look,
08:35
when we join together
and we solve this big problem."
08:37
You need to use that as your ending,
08:40
in a very poetic and dramatic way.
08:41
So, interestingly, when I was done,
08:45
I was like, "You know what?
I could use this as an analysis tool."
08:47
I actually transcribe speeches,
08:51
and I would actually map out,
how much they map to this tool.
08:53
So I want to show you some of that today,
08:56
and I want to start
with the very two people
08:58
that I used when I first did.
09:00
Here's Mr. Jobs,
has completely changed the world.
09:02
Changed the world of personal computing,
changed the music industry
09:04
and now he's on his way
to change the mobile device industry.
09:08
So he's definitely changed the world.
09:11
And this is the shape
of his iPhone launch 2007,
09:12
when he launched his iPhone.
09:15
It's a 90-minute talk
and you can see he starts with what is,
09:17
traverses back and forth
and ends with what could be.
09:20
So I want to zoom in on this:
09:23
the white line
is him speaking, he's talking.
09:25
The next color line
you'll see popped up there,
09:29
that's when he cuts to video.
09:31
So he's adding some variety
and he cuts to demo.
09:32
So it's not just him
talking the whole time.
09:34
And these lines are representative there.
09:37
And then towards the end
you'll see a blue line,
09:40
which will be the guest speaker.
09:42
So this is where it gets
kind of interesting:
09:44
every tick mark here
is when he made them laugh.
09:46
And every tick mark here
is when he made them clap.
09:48
They are so involved physically,
09:51
they are physically reacting
to what he is saying,
09:53
which is actually fantastic,
09:55
because then you know
you have the audience in your hand.
09:56
So he kicks off what could be with,
10:00
"This is a day I've been looking
forward to for two and a half years."
10:03
So he is launching a product
10:06
that he's known about already
for a couple of years.
10:07
So this is not a new product to him.
10:10
But look at this,
10:12
he does this other thing: he marvels.
10:13
He marvels at his own product.
10:15
He marvels himself
more than the audience laughs or claps.
10:16
So he is like, "Isn't this awesome?
Isn't this beautiful?"
10:19
He is modeling for the audience
what he wants them to feel.
10:23
So he is actually doing a job
of compelling them to feel a certain way.
10:26
So he kicks off with what could be with,
"Every once in a while,
10:31
a revolutionary product comes along
that changes everything."
10:34
So he starts to kick in
and talk about his new product.
10:37
Now, at the beginning of it,
he actually keeps the phone off.
10:40
You'll see that the line
is pretty white up until this point,
10:43
so he goes off between,
10:46
"Here's this new phone,
and here's the sucky competitors.
10:48
Here's this new phone,
and here's the sucky competitors."
10:50
And then, right about here,
he has the star moment --
10:54
and that something we'll always remember.
10:57
He turns the phone on.
10:59
The audience sees scrolling
for the first time,
11:00
you can hear the oxygen
sucked out of the room.
11:02
They gasped. You can actually hear it.
11:05
So he creates a moment
that they'll always remember.
11:07
So if we move along this model,
you can see the blue,
11:09
where the external speakers are going,
11:12
and towards the bottom right,
the line breaks.
11:14
That's because his clicker broke.
11:16
He wants to keep
this heightened sense of excitement.
11:17
He tells a personal story,
11:20
right there, where
the technology didn't work.
11:21
So he's the master communicator,
11:24
and he turns to story
to keep the audience involved.
11:25
So the top right
he ends with the new bliss.
11:28
He leaves them with the promise
11:31
that Apple will continue
to build revolutionary new products.
11:32
And he says,
11:36
"There's an old Wayne Gretzky
quote that I love:
11:38
'I skate to where the puck is going to be,
not to where it has been.'
11:40
We've always tried to do that
at Apple since the very beginning
11:43
and we always will."
11:46
So he ends with the new bliss.
11:48
So let's look at Mr. King.
11:49
He was an amazing visionary, a clergyman
11:50
who spent his life
working hard for equality.
11:53
And this is the shape
of the "I Have a Dream" speech.
11:56
You can see he starts with what is,
11:58
moves back and forth
between what is and what could be,
12:00
and ends with a very poetic new bliss,
which is the famous part we all know.
12:03
So I'm going to spread it out
a little bit here,
12:07
stretch it for you,
12:09
and what I'm doing here is
I put the actual transcript there
12:11
along with the text.
12:14
I know you can't read it.
12:15
But at the end of every line break,
I broke the line,
12:16
because he took a breath and he paused.
12:19
Now he was a Southern Baptist preacher,
most people hadn't heard that,
12:21
so he had a real cadence and a rhythm
that was really new for people there.
12:24
So I want to cover up
these lines of text with a bar
12:28
because I want to use this bar
as an information device here.
12:30
So let's walk through
how he actually spoke to the people.
12:33
The blue bars here
are going to be when he used
12:38
the actual rhetorical device
of repetition.
12:40
So he was repeating himself,
12:42
he was using the same words and phrases,
12:43
so people could remember and recall them.
12:45
But then he also used
a lot of metaphors and visual words.
12:48
This was a way to take
really complicated ideas
12:51
and make them memorable
and knowledgeable, so people got it.
12:53
He actually created very --
12:56
almost like scenes
with his words to make it
12:58
so they could envision what he was saying.
13:00
And then there were also a lot of familiar
songs and scriptures that he used.
13:03
This is just the front end of it
that you're seeing.
13:07
And then he also made
a lot of political references
13:09
of the promises
that were made to the people.
13:12
So if we look at
the very first end of what is,
13:14
at the very end of what is
was the very first time
13:16
that people actually clapped
and roared really loud.
13:19
So the end of what is
what he did is he said,
13:21
"America has given
the Negro people a bad check,
13:23
a check which has come back
marked insufficient funds."
13:26
Well, everyone knows what it's like
to not have money in your account.
13:28
So he used the metaphor
people were very familiar with.
13:32
But when they really charged up,
13:34
the very first time
they really screamed was:
13:36
"So we have come to cash this check,
13:38
a check that will give us upon demand
13:40
the riches of freedom
and the security of justice."
13:42
That's when they really clapped.
13:45
It was when he compared
what currently is to what could be.
13:47
So when we move along
a little farther in the model,
13:50
you'll see it goes back and forth
at a more frenzied pace.
13:52
And this is when he goes
back and forth, and back and forth.
13:55
Now the audience was in a frenzy.
13:58
They were all excited,
and so you can actually do this
14:00
to keep them in a heightened
sense of excitement.
14:02
So he says, "I have a dream
14:06
that one day this nation will rise up
and live out the meaning of its creed.
14:08
'We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that all men are created equal.'"
14:13
So he uses the little orange text there
to remind them of the promise
14:16
that the politicians had made to him
or that this country had made.
14:20
Then he moves back and forth between
14:23
"I have a dream that one day,
I have a dream that one day,
14:25
I have a dream that one day,"
14:27
and at the end,
it gets really interesting.
14:29
Because he uses --
you can look at the four shades of green,
14:31
there's a lot of blue there,
which was a lot of repetition --
14:34
he had a heightened sense of repetition.
14:37
And the green was a heightened sense
of songs and scriptures.
14:39
So the first batch of green
14:42
was the actual scripture
from the Book of Isaiah.
14:44
The second batch of green
was "My Country, 'Tis of Thee."
14:46
Now, that's a familiar song
that was specifically very significant
14:49
for the black people at the time,
14:53
because this song was the song they
chose to change the words to as an outcry,
14:54
saying that promises had not been kept.
14:59
So the third batch of green was actually
a stanza from "My Country, 'Tis of Thee."
15:01
And then the fourth was a Negro spiritual.
15:05
"Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, I'm free at last!"
15:08
So what he did is he actually reached
inside of the hearts of the audience.
15:11
He pulled from scriptures,
which is important.
15:16
He pulled from songs
that they'd sung together
15:18
as an outcry against this outrage,
15:20
and he used those as a device
to connect and resonate with the audience.
15:22
Ending -- painting a picture
of this new bliss,
15:25
using the very things inside of them
that they already held as sacred.
15:28
So he was a great man.
He had a big, big dream.
15:33
There's a lot of people here,
you guys have really big dreams.
15:35
You have really big ideas inside of you
15:38
that you need to get out.
15:40
But you know what? We encounter hardships.
15:42
It's not easy to change the world;
15:44
it's a big job.
15:45
You know he was --
15:47
his house was bombed,
he was stabbed with a letter opener,
15:48
ultimately, he lost his life,
15:51
you know, for what he cared about.
15:52
But a lot of us aren't going to
be required to pay that kind of sacrifice.
15:54
But what happens is
15:58
that it basically is a little bit
like that basic story structure.
16:00
Life can be like that.
16:03
You know, you guys are all likable people,
16:04
you have a desire,
you encounter roadblocks,
16:07
and we stop there.
16:10
We're just like, you know,
"I had this idea,
16:11
but I'm not going to put it out there.
16:13
It's been rejected."
16:15
You know, we self-sabotage our own ideas,
16:16
we just butt up against the roadblocks
and butt up against the roadblocks
16:20
instead of choosing
to let the struggle transform us
16:24
and choosing to go ahead
and have a dream and make it real.
16:26
And you know, if anyone --
if I can do this, anybody can do this.
16:30
I was raised in an economically
and emotionally starved environment.
16:34
First time I got to go to a camp
with my sister, I was abused.
16:38
Wasn't the first time I was abused,
it was just the most aggressive.
16:42
And my mom and dad --
they married each other three times,
16:45
(Audience murmurs)
16:48
Yeah, that was tumultuous,
and when they weren't fighting
16:49
they were helping sober up
some alcoholic that was living with us
16:52
because they were both sober alcoholics.
16:55
So my mom abandoned us
when I was sixteen years old.
16:57
And I took on a role of caretaker
of my home and of my siblings.
16:59
And I married. I met a man.
17:03
Fell in love. I went to a year of college.
17:06
I did what every single,
bright, young girl should do --
17:08
I got married when
I was eighteen years old.
17:11
And you know what?
17:13
I knew, I knew
17:14
that I was born for more than this.
17:17
And right at the point
in the story of my life I had a choice.
17:19
I could let all these things push me down
17:22
and I could let all my ideas
die inside of me.
17:25
I could just say, you know,
life is too hard to change the world.
17:27
It's just too tough.
17:30
But I chose a different story for my life.
17:31
(Laughter)
17:34
Don't you know it?
17:36
And so I feel like
there's people in this room --
17:38
you got those little
Suavitos baking spices
17:41
and you're just like,
"You know, It's not that big a deal."
17:43
"It's really not
the whole world I can change."
17:46
But you know, you can change your world.
17:48
You can change your life.
17:50
You can change the world
that you have control over,
17:51
you can change your sphere.
17:53
I want to encourage you to do that.
17:55
Because you know what?
17:57
The future isn't a place
that we're going to go.
17:58
It's a place that you get to create.
18:02
I want to thank you.
Bless you. God bless you.
18:05
(Applause)
18:08

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About the speaker:

Nancy Duarte - CEO, presentation designer
Nancy Duarte believes that ideas are the most powerful tools people have. Her passion is to help every person learn to communicate their world-changing idea effectively.

Why you should listen

Nancy Duarte is an expert in presentation design and principal of Duarte Design, where she has served as CEO for 21 years. Nancy speaks around the world, seeking to improve the power of public presentations. She is the author of Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations as well as Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences and the recent HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations.

Watch Duarte's recent webinar on making presentations remotely >>

More profile about the speaker
Nancy Duarte | Speaker | TED.com