Conflict is the girl who the boy loves, but the girl is dating another boy. Conflict is the businessman under pressure from the boss to engage in unethical activities. Conflict is the woman who struggles with weight issues, but wishes to compete in a triathlon. Conflict is everywhere. And it is one of the top 5 elements any good story – or presentation – needs to command a compelling narrative.


Source: Barry Ritholtz

Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D. and author of Story Structure Architect described 6 types of conflicts utilized by writers to move their narrative at a compelling pace from beginning to end. Below is an explanation of each conflict type and an example of how to craft that particular conflict in your next presentation.

1. Relational

What is it?

According to Victoria, relational conflict pits one human against another human. Both have a goal that upon accomplishment would render the other’s goal ineffectual.

Presentation Example:

In the movie Love Actually, the narrative is driven by a 8 different couples navigating the challenges of romantic relationships. A recently-married couple has a mutual friend, who is secretly in love with the woman. To mask his infatuation, he avoids her – leading the couple to assume he doesn’t like her. The following scene displays a relational conflict, as it places the love interests of the friend in direct conflict with the love interests of the woman.

If the woman was to cheat on or leave her husband for the friend, she would lose him despite the friend attaining his ultimate goal. Let’s say you are in corporate at a fitness facility and are planning to deliver a presentation about the benefits of this company compared to the rest in the industry. A creative approach to a presentation narrative would be to create relational conflict through stories – fictional or based on actual clients describing the different antagonists, such as an unsupportive significant other, that previously stood in the way of a protagonist’s fitness goals.

2. Situational

What is it?

This type of conflict places a human at odds with nature or specific surroundings.

Presentation Example:

The inclusion of a situational conflict can be especially effective for an internal presentation about changing courses or processes to improve efficiency or increase revenue. Using a hero’s journey narrative to establish the problems and demonstrate the ways a certain solution will solve them. For example, the company (hero) is encountering these three problems: slow product development pace, continual loss in revenue each quarter, and low employee morale. Those are the challenges the company must conquer. Introduce your solution and then describe the manners with which this plan will demolish the previously mentioned problems.

3. Inner

What is it?

In an inner conflict, an individual copes with a personal struggle.

Presentation Example:

An inner conflict in a presentation could manifest itself in a personal story. Sharing a personal story not only helps you connect on a deeper level with your audience, but it also is an effective way to inject conflict in subject matter that may not naturally attract conflict otherwise. Let’s say you are giving a presentation introducing your company and its product – athletic shoes for example – to an audience of outsiders who you are trying to sell on said product. Beginning your presentation with a personal story about your first experience in athletics and how running a race empowered you in all other facets of your life. This will add another layer of authenticity to you as a presenter and to your company and its brand in general.

4. Paranormal

What is it?

No, we aren’t talking about “paranormal” like the Paranormal Activity movies. A paranormal conflict, rather, involves an individual whose actions produced a series of consequences related to technology and possibility.

Presentation Example:

Are you announcing a new product or service offering in your next presentation? Then you should consider crafting a narrative incorporating paranormal conflict. Start your presentation with a verbal and visual representation of what the world currently looks like without your company’s product or service. What are the issues with this current state? How did your company find a solution, and what is it? Deliver a description of the world with your company’s product or service. What are the consequences of the creation of the product or service? How and why does it positively alter the life of audience members? A paranormal conflict is capable of crafting a mysterious setting and alluring audiences.

5. Cosmic

What is it?

The presence of a higher power – whether it be a reliance on fate or destiny or the belief in a divine god – is at the center of a cosmic conflict with a human that it affects.

Presentation Example:

In a presentation driven by cosmic conflict, the presenter could position the audience as the hero of the story instead of the company, organization, or group. Throughout the course of the talk, address the needs of your audience and convince them that interaction with your organization or with your product is their destiny.

6. Social

What is it?

Although somewhat self-explanatory, a social conflict occurs when an individual has trouble with a group of people.

Presentation Example:

Social conflict can present itself in the form of a personal experience or even a negative client experience with a competitor product (then following up with the same client and their positive experience with your product).

The conflict you choose matters little, but the impact your presentation will have means the world. For more information about conflict and its impact on a presentation, check out the following resources:

Beware! Avoid These Presentation Storytelling Mistakes

Classic Story Conflicts

Why You Need a Hero’s Journey for Your Next Presentation

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