In an article for Transom, HowSound podcast host Rob Rosenthal had a colleague assemble the outline of some of the most popular podcasts on napkins. The goal was to visualize the content structure of a typical story from these podcasts. Although these structures were developed for sound, they can also drastically improve the narrative of any presentation. You just have to have the willingness to try and the tenacity to stick through the structure from beginning to end.

How to Present Like a Podcaster

Source: My Kingdom for Some Structure

Here are a few of the podcast story structures outlined and exemplified in a presentation format:

1. This American Life

Ira Glass’ brainchild, This American Life, follows a fairly simple structure. Something occurs, then another thing occurs, and then another. After all of these happenings (dashes), a moment of reflection takes place, followed by a discussion on what all of the events mean (exclamation points).

This American Life Podcast

Source: My Kingdom for Some Structure

Presentation Tip: So, let’s say you are a CEO explaining to a group of your employees about a new process you employed to assist in improved time management across the company. If you use a This American Life narrative approach, you would start your presentation with a specific situation that happened, which sparked the process change. For example, first, you noticed that marketers were consistently missing their deadlines (something happened). Then, you noticed that there was not an effective system of communication between the designers and marketers, resulting in lack of notice for illustration development (another thing happened). Then, you implemented a new software that allows marketers to tell designers what they need and helps designers find that information out and put the finished product in the same software, all in the same place (another thing happened). After describing this process by highlighting a specific experience, you would expand on the moment of reflection. Why did this process speed up content development? What was wrong and why did this process fix it?

2. All Things Considered

The first NPR program ever established – about 45 years ago – was All Things Considered, a segment that features several varying storytelling modes in its coverage. The structure of a typical story from All Things Considered begins with an opening scene (a straight line). Throughout the opening, an active character is introduced to the audience. After this scene, the story delves into data-driven, statistic-based information about the topic or situation at hand (the downward dip). At the end of the story, you end up back to the opening scene (the straight line). From the opening to the ending scene, time may have passed and the character could be in a different part of their life.

All Things Considered Podcast

Source: My Kingdom for Some Structure

Presentation Tip: For a presenter, this story structure somewhat mirrors that of a hero’s journey – it begins by showing the audience where they are, and aims to show where they could be if they bought a certain product, used a certain tool, or read a certain document. A narrative like this could work well for a clothing brand trying to convince consumers that their leggings are the best in the industry, for example. In the opening scene, the presenter could introduce a prospective customer, except she is wearing leggings made by a different company. They are see-through. They make her legs itch. She just doesn’t feel confident and beautiful when she is wearing them. Just like that, you have set the scene and established a point by which the story can progress. In the middle part, or the downward dip, the presenter could introduce the brand as a mentor, aiding the customer into the unknown with a call to action – to try out these new leggings. Here, the presenter would explain why this brand’s leggings are superior to the other through some research-backed points. Finally, the presentation would end back at that original scene. The difference? The prospective customer is now a full-fledged brand evangelist, sporting her new leggings and feeling as beautiful as ever.

3. Transom “the e”

Although the stories featured on Transom do not necessarily all stick to this storytelling format, it is Rob’s structure of choice and the one he teaches at Transom learning workshops. At the beginning point of the ‘e,’ the story starts in or around the present. Throughout the story, the character goes through a sequence of events, and when the ‘e’ loops upward, the story goes from present to past or broadens. As the loop ends, the story comes back to the present and onto a resolution.

Transom Podcast

Source: My Kingdom for Some Structure

Presentation Tip: This is likely a more familiar narrative approach for most presenters, as there is a very clearly defined beginning, middle, and end. However, there are elements of the structure that a presenter could really have some fun with throughout their presentation. For example, a company planning a presentation for their 30-year anniversary might consider using this kind of narrative to provide context to newer employees or to family members, friends, and those audiences less familiar with the company. By taking the time in the middle of the narrative – or presentation – to remove the audience from the present and tell them how the company got where it is today and why it started in the first place, the presenter could add a whole new layer of meaning to the story that would resonate well.

Next time you hear a news story on the radio, pay attention closely to the narrative structure. And don’t be quick to dismiss it as a storytelling strategy to consider using in your next presentation. Storytelling is storytelling, no matter what medium is used to disseminate it. For more storytelling tips and tricks, check out the following resources:

How to Tell a Story During a Presentation

Storytelling Tactics For Presentations: Creating the Right Villain

Why Presenters Should Think Like Journalists


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