Speaking: Use the Narrative Arc

If you took a college freshman literature class, you probably remember a diagram like this:

hart-arc

…with the x-axis reprenting time, and the y-axis (which, for some infuriating reason, is never labeled) representing intensity.

Last week’s speaking hack was to limit yourself to 15 minutes (or less!) per idea. The hack this week is to use this gradient of intensity within each segment you present.

If you wrote it out as a linear outline, each idea in your talk might have:

  1. an introduction to the idea
  2. a high-level overview of the idea
  3. the technical details
  4. an example that brings the technical details together (this is the most exciting part!)
  5. a conclusion that wraps up why this is exciting, how it works, and what people learned

You can also use the narrative arc to structure the intensity of the talk as a whole. By ordering the ideas you explore by intensity and having a strong introduction and strong conclusion, you can keep people engaged throughout the entire presentation.

This article is part of my series of speaking hacks for introverts and nerds. Read about the motivation here.


  • http://www.facebook.com/darren.dawson.90 Darren Dawson

    Thanks for this article, as an introvert and self confessed nerd, this is of some use to me as public speaking isn’t my strong point. I’ll be sure to incorporate this into my next speaking engagement!

  • StoryboardThat

    love the article! One thing I do is use a storyboard to structure my thoughts. Forcing yourself to be concise on a few cells really helps. Sticking with the plot diagram example (http://www.storyboardthat.com/articles/education/plot-diagram)