Sparklines: storytelling from flicker to flame

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All the world’s a stage, and every presentation is a story waiting to be told. One of the most potent narrative arcs for presentations is the Sparkline. It’s a narrative structure that holds the power to electrify.

Sparking intrigue

So, what are Sparklines anyway? They’re one of the six narrative arcs, originally introduced by Nancy Duarte – renowned presentation guru. Sparklines juxtapose the “what is” with the “what could be”.

The “what is” lays bare the Hero’s current reality, often brimming with challenges or conflicts, a sobering depiction of the status quo. In contrast, the “what could be” emanates an inspiring vision of the future where a protagonist triumphs over their adversities.

Here’s how that looks on a framework diagram.

This vibrant juxtaposition fuels the narrative. It guides the audience along a path from the present’s harsh realities to a brighter tomorrow.

The psychology behind the Sparkline arc

Narratives in general are a universal means of communication, deeply ingrained in human behaviour. They allows us to understand and process information more easily by adding context to the info you’re trying to convey. We’re hardwired to remember stories and seek emotional connection. The Sparkline arc leverages this human propensity to its fullest.

The Sparklines contrast between a problematic present and a promising future to generate an emotional rollercoaster that stirs up feelings of tension, anticipation and, ultimately, hope.

The crux of the Sparklines arc is motivating change. When an audience is presented with a vision of a hopeful future, it fuels their desire to strive for that better reality.

Using Sparklines to ignite engagement

Using Sparklines in a presentation is akin to holding a lit match up to a perfectly dried pile of presentation kindling. In a matter of moments, you’ll see how well it warms up your audience. They’re ready to accept the changes you’re proposing, have their imagination lit up, and desire to effect change igniting.

Sparklines work by presenting the audience with their status quo. Then, a contrasting picture of an appealing, idealised future is shown. Repeat this pattern throughout the entire presentation, as many times as needed, then culminate in a climactic call-to-action. This is the flame that turns your Sparkline into a full-blown fire.

See the glow with real-world Sparkline examples

The most iconic example of the Sparklines arc in action, and the one that gets bandied about most often, is Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech. He paints a vivid picture of the harsh realities of racial discrimination (the “status quo”). He then juxtaposes this with his dream for a harmonious, equitable society (the “ideal future”). His speech is remembered not only for its powerful message, but also for the compelling narrative structure that helps to drive this message home.

In the corporate world, every great pitch is, in its purest essence, a Sparkline. Entrepreneurs outline the challenges of the current market (the “what is) before unveiling the innovative solutions up their sleeves that promise a better, brighter and bigger future (the “what could be”). The allure of this better future is what gets clever investors opening up their wallets.

Balancing arcs and authenticity

Sparklines can be a powerful tool in your storytelling toolkit, but it’s crucial not to become overly reliant on them. They aren’t a rigid scaffold, more like a guiding torch that lights up your path. They provide direction but shouldn’t ever limit your creativity or the authenticity of your brand voice.

Remember the most important thing is that your story resonates with your audience, and it won’t do that if it feels forced or unnatural.

In the end, Sparklines is about more than just creating a captivating presentation. It’s about creating a framework that inspires change, ignites a passionate spark in your audience, and leads them on a journey of your choosing.

So get out there and start sparking those changes! Light the way to a brighter future with your story, one Sparkline at a time.

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