In 2015, a Statista survey indicated that the top leading book genre was mystery, thriller, and crime – with 47% of adult respondents claiming to have read a piece from the genre in the past year. Over the course of the past 7 years, the number of TV viewers watching mystery, suspense, and crime series has increased 32% – from 78.54 million in 2008 to 103.69 million in 2015. With the rising popularity of mystery and crime books and shows, it seems worth any presenter’s time and effort to craft their presentation narrative like a mystery. Here are four reasons why:

1. Captivates an audience

According to a recent study out of the University of Augsburg, Germany and the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that people are attracted to violent, mystery films for two main reasons: insight into a unique subject of the human condition and the thought-provoking, suspenseful characteristics of a typical plot. Les Lancaster, a professor of transpersonal psychology at Liverpool John Moores University said that a yearning for mystery rests at the core of the human mind.

Les Lancaster


Presentation Tip:

Two of my guilty viewing pleasures as of late are How to Get Away with Murder and, it’s similar predecessor, Damages. The aspect of the narrative that really sucked me into these shows was their seamless and alluring use of the literary device, foreshadowing. In the first episode, you see brief snippets of the actual crime that actually occurs at the end of a season. Throughout each episode, you might see the same flashback or foreshadowing event, but with every viewing, the scene(s) provide more detail behind the motivation of the primary character and meaning to the overall conflict. It serves as clues to solving the greater mystery of the season. So how can a presenter utilize foreshadowing in their presentations?

It can be as simple as beginning your talk with a story or scene describing the situation your audience could be in with your product or idea. Then, throughout your presentation, find a creative way to juxtapose this future scene with where the audience currently is without your product or idea. The audience will be hooked and will wonder how they can get to that scene you described in the beginning. Also, by employing foreshadowing (basically starting with the end of your presentation), you are playing to the psychological principles of the primacy and recency effects – which state that people are more likely to remember and retain the information they hear at the beginning and end of a presentation.

2. Requires a structured plot

Because a mystery narrative requires the introduction of clues to help (or hinder) the reader or listener in their quest to solve the “crime” or problem, it takes a little extra thought on the part of the writer or presenter. You have to sit down and think through your narrative from beginning to end before even typing any text on a slide. But, this will make your presentation stronger and more cohesive in the end. Your plot should convey the following three aspects clearly to your audience: the character’s desire(s), the obstacles on his path to achieving said desire(s), and what the scene will look like if the character doesn’t get the desired thing(s).

Presentation Tip:

The first thing a presenter should consider when developing their mystery narrative is creating the main characters: the villain, sidekick, and detective. In your presentation, you as the presenter could be the sidekick, while your audience could be cast as the detective. Like Sherlock Holmes has Doctor John Watson alongside him, providing details of their adventures, you can chronicle the plot of your presentation as your audience actually solves the mystery. The villain of your presentation does not necessarily have to be a person. It can be a thing, an idea in direct conflict with the one you are persuading your audience to believe. This brings you to the middle of your narrative, where you will hopefully orchestrate challenges for your audience (the detectives) to overcome. These challenges could align with those faced in the journey to get your product developed or idea accepted. Obstacles also build suspense. Through outlining the knowledge or concepts that they will leave the presentation with and then proceeding to deliver that information, you are still leading the audience while also holding their attention with mystery.

3. Maintains a variable function

Most mysteries pit good against evil – always in pursuit of justice. Mystery can be used in a variety of ways, however, depending on the subject matter and the message you are projecting.

Presentation Tip:

 For example, use another literary device called a red herring when you want to either set your audience in the wrong direction (only to eventually bring them back on the right track with legitimate clues) or to divert their attention away from a piece of information that you would like to avoid expounding on during the presentation. During a Q&A session, consider utilizing a red herring to maneuver around a negative topic.

4. Unites individuals

A mystery-driven plot – supported by the undeniable fact that individuals are drawn to solving issues and answering questions – also plays hand-in-hand with the social inclusion theory. Incorporating a mystery into your presentation has the ability to make all members of your audience feel valued, to demonstrate your acknowledgement of their differences, and express your capability to meet their basic, intellectual needs through the storytelling technique. Finding that common ground through mystery could significantly enhance the empathy for your character’s plight and connect your message to an integral facet of the human condition.

Presentation Tip:

Consider combining a foreshadowing moment with a strong cliffhanger at the begin of your presentation. This will create suspense and prepare you to divulge the conflict of your story and message. Drop clues – possibly in the form of section headers, which will break up the stages of your talk – and then present more information about the motive behind each character within each section.

If you are looking for a new way to present information to your audiences, get creative and manufacture a compelling mystery as your narrative. For more information about the influence of mystery on humans and how to harness it in your presentation, view the following resources:

How to Craft the Perfect Hook for Your Presentation

Add Mystery to Your Presentation with Props

Top Rules for Mystery Writing

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