The Lantern Group recently had the pleasure of attending one of Nancy Duarte’s workshops in Santa Clara, CA – led by facilitator Mike Pacchione. The workshop was a one-day event called “A Visual Story” and focused on how to design and deliver persuasive presentations.

For those who are unfamiliar; Nancy Duarte is the founder of Duarte Design, a TED Talk speaker, and a leader in presentation design. Duarte Design is a consulting agency that specializes in “all things presentations”.

Nancy has written a few great books on creating visual stories, visualizing data, and the art of creating presentations, all worth a read.

The workshop attendees were a fun mix – including representatives from Google, Facebook, and Apple, as well as local elementary school teachers, communications specialists, and graphic designers – all seeking ways to improve the way they give presentations.

At the Lantern Group, we are consistently looking for ways to expand our client services and drive value in our communications, as such, we attended to see if we could improve the design and storytelling aspects of our Behavioral Communications.

We believe that quality design combined with insights from the world of behavioral science is the key to creating powerful communications that drive employee behavior. Here are the top 5 things we learned from this fantastic workshop

1. Almost all great presentations look the same. Sounds odd right? Well let’s look. Nancy examined the top presentations of all time, including Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” and Ronald Reagan’s post-Challenger disaster address to the nation, among hundreds of others. In examining the structure, she found that they pretty much all looked like this1:

So, what does that mean? Let’s break it down:

First, the story is told as a series of “what is” and “what could be” scenarios. These scenarios help build conflict along with solutions and keep the audience engaged.

Secondly, these presentations use three parts to structure that series – the same three parts that make up great stories. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

The beginning should be used to set the stage. You should put yourself in the audience’s shoes and introduce a problem (“what is”), in story format, that explains the current situation as the audience knows it. You should then introduce a “what could be” that shows a future-state, the result of your intended proposal. The gap between the current state and the future state should make up the bulk of your presentation – this is the middle. The middle should be back and forth dynamic between “what is” and “what could be’s”, laying out the steps to get to the desired solution you introduced in the beginning.

Note: The biggest mistake in the middle that has been observed is that we provide one short current scenario followed by one long solution, this does not create a dynamic story that engages the audience and keeps them captivated – many presentations are simply the beginning section of the persuasive story diagram with a drawn out “what could be”.

Finally, the end. After laying out the final “what is” scenario, you need to wrap up the presentation in the ending in an engaging manner. Nancy refers to this final take away as the “New Bliss” – or simply stated “an inspiring call to action”. Give your audience a clear action and give them a reason to want to do it! Think – “do this, get that”.

2. Let your imagination go wild (and then reel it in). When asked to draw a picture of another person, a child typically does so without asking and is not ashamed of the outcome. When an adult is asked to do the same they tend to hesitate, apologize for the outcome, or even refuse to show the finished product to the subject. Why is this? Simple – the child is not overthinking it, they have not let their imagination be squandered by years of social norms. This is a fun one – when planning your presentation: be a child, let go of the social norms, ignore the “that’s dumb” impulse, and run with whatever jumps into your head. Once you have the wildest and wackiest ideas on the table, you can then let your “adult kick in” and streamline the content into an acceptable format. Some of our best ideas can come out by letting your brain go. One method of this that is recommended by Duarte is “word mapping”. Write down a word and then spend a few minutes writing every association and sub-association you can think of. This can be a fantastic way to break out of the typical word choices or associative image choices and icons that drown presentation’s today.

3. Understand your audience. Conduct an audience analysis – put yourself in their shoes. Duarte recommends asking yourself: “What makes them tick? What does the world look like from their eyes? Why are they here? What are they like? What is it you are asking them to do? How might the resist your proposal?” You need to be able to understand and speak to your audience if you want them to be engaged. In addition to understanding them, you need to be able to find common ground between yourself and the audience to properly connect with them.

4. Map your story. Story mapping is a way of laying out your presentation’s structure to align with the “persuasive story pattern”. Write down the “big ideas” the “what is” states, the “what could be” states, and as Duarte explains “any steps needed to bridge that gap, any resistance the audience might have, any tools they will need to make that happen, and the calls to action you will need them to enact.”

Next, organize these notes into the pattern of “Beginning, Middle, End”. Duarte recommends using post-it notes – however in the spirit of our workshops “Use Your Style” and “Igniting Change”, we would recommend using whatever system works for you in your flow state.

5. Use one slide for one idea. Now that it’s time to build your presentation, keep it simple. Use one slide for every idea you are presenting, cramming too much information onto a page will confuse and dis-engage your audience.

At the Lantern Group, we are huge fans of mitigating cognitive load – we have said it a million times “white space is good!” so this concept really speaks to us. It is better to have fifty slides that move at a quicker pace and keep your audience engaged and informed than it is to have five slides to cover the same length of time, leaving your audience bored, mentally exhausted and confused.

Overall, we would highly recommend participating in one of Duarte’s workshops. If you would like to attend one of the workshops yourself check them out here.

If you would like to combine these ideas with cutting edge behavioral science to maximize the value of your employee communications contact us at the form below or email


  1. Duarte, Nancy. (year, month day). Structure Your Presentation Like a Story.