How to use The Hero’s Journey in presentations
The Hero’s Journey: transforming dull decks into epic adventures
Narrative arcs have been the lifeblood of compelling stories for ages. They craft the path that takes a tale from beginning to end, intertwining plot, characters and conflicts into a cohesive and engaging narrative track.
In presentations, narrative arcs make the difference between securing your audience’s rapt attention and losing them on the tide of incomprehensible data and sludgy slides. So far in our narrative arc series, we’ve explored two arcs: Rags to Riches and Overcoming the Monster. Today, we’re turning the spotlight on the legendary, the familiar, the so-commonly-used-it’s-nearly-a-cliché: the Hero’s Journey.
Decoding the Hero’s Journey
Sometimes known as “the monomyth”, the Hero’s Journey was famously outlined by Joseph Campbell, who first recognised the repeating pattern of journey stages as a circle.
There are countless variations and interpretations of these stages, but they all feature a protagonist (or Hero) departing their ordinary world for an unfamiliar one, facing trials and tribulations, getting support from their Guide, winning a decisive victory against their Villain and then returning home transformed.
Applying the Hero’s Journey to presentations
Here’s our ultra-simplified three-act version of this intimidatingly complex narrative flow.
Act One: the Departure
In the first act of our deck, we introduce our Hero to their status quo. We’ll spotlight a major issue or Villain they’re facing (this is the classic Call to Adventure), and inspire them to use our help (the Supernatural Aid) to seek a solution (or Cross the Threshold).
Act Two: the Initiation
This is where our audience faces their Villain head on (or the Road of Trials). The Hero will then overcome them using our solution (the Ultimate Boon). This middle act should be dedicated to proving the efficacy and benefits of the idea or product. We’re trying to convince the audience to buy into our solution, so it needs to hit hard.
Act Three: the Return
The third and final act of the deck sees our audience, now armed with the knowledge and solutions we’ve provided them makes their way to their original situation, transformed forever (Crossing the Return Threshold). They now understand how vastly their world will be improved by our solution. We’ll then reinforce our key messages and close the presentation by inspiring the audience to take action (Freedom to Live).
None of that plan can be set in stone, because every one of your presentations, just like every story, is unique. But the general outline that a Hero’s Journey deck will follow is near failure>hard-won triumph>return to normality. Which is all the ingredients a presentation needs to go from flat to smash.
The Hero’s Journey in action
This arc has been employed across countless cultural and business narratives. From Luke Skywalker and Frodo Baggins to adverts for Coca Cola and pretty much any Nike ad campaign, to Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition and Nelson Mandela’s fight against apartheid.
Each journey, fictional or otherwise, follows a similar Hero’s Journey structure. This structure makes the stories eminently relatable and resonates with almost any audience. It helps to make the unfamiliar understandable and the complex simple.
The balancing act
Whilst the Hero’s Journey is a powerful narrative arc to use in presentations, it’s not a one-size-fits-all tool. Different presentations require different narratives. The key to deck success lies in identifying which arc aligns best with the message you’re conveying and the needs of your audience.
Remember, using narrative arcs isn’t about shoehorning your content into a predefined structure. It’s about utilising those predefined structures. That’ll help guide you into crafting a more engaging, more relatable and more memorable narrative.
Why embrace narrative arcs?
Narrative arcs are, as we’ve just demonstrated, about more than creating drama. They provide a familiar framework for your presentation. Frameworks make your content more digestible, and can up the impact with emotional audience hooks. Using a narrative arc can help to humanise your ideas. It’ll also help you to turn your abstract concepts into engaging stories that your audience can connect with.
As we continue to explore the power of each individual arc, we encourage you to think about your next presentation as a journey. Are you ready to guide your audience through the trials and victories of their own Hero’s Journey? If you aren’t, don’t worry. We can take that off your plate no probs.
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