The hero's journey: How to use storytelling in presentations

The hero's journey: How to use storytelling in presentations

You’re probably already familiar with the term ‘hero’s journey’. After all, it was first coined way back in 1949. However, if you’re thinking wait, I’ve never heard of this before don’t fear, as you will most definitely have seen it.

This infamous storytelling technique features in some of the most-loved books and films of all time; it’s the basis of everything from Jane Eyre to Star Wars. 

But, even if you’re already well aware of the hero’s journey, you might not have considered how it could be used in your presentations. Structuring your presentation within the framework of the hero’s journey not only makes it more interesting, but increases audience engagement and ultimately helps your messaging be more successful.  

Here's how to utilise this timeless storytelling framework in your presentations. 

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The Hero’s Journey Explained 

The hero’s journey is a classic story structure, often employed in literature and film, which follows the tale of a protagonist as they embark on a transformative journey. It has been used as a narrative for centuries, with the first account of its use dating as far back as 158 AD, in Apuleius’ ‘Metamorphoses'.

hero's journey: storytelling in presentations

Comprised of 3 acts, the hero’s journey witnesses a central character embark on a mission and overcome obstacles before returning entirely transformed.  

Act 1- It begins with the departure, setting the scene of the world as the protagonist knows it before being called to their mission.  

Act 2- The initiation follows, in which the hero is faced with the challenges that will ultimately change them forever.  

Act 3- The final act sees the hero returning to the original world triumphant and transformed. 

Storytelling in Branding 

But, the hero’s journey is not just reserved to books and films, it has been used in some of the most famous marketing campaigns of the last 50 yearsAnd despite its already long-standing use, the success of brands that employ the hero’s journey only continues to grow.  

Branding experts’ interest in narrative archetypes has increased considerably in recent years, with both practitioners and scholars noting their significance in establishing a meaningful psychological relationship between brand and consumer. Cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner even suggested that messages delivered as stories are up to 22 times more memorable.  

One of the most famous, and enduring, examples of a brand using the hero’s journey narrative is the beloved sportswear giant, NikeTheir marketing repeatedly uses this formula to create campaigns that connect with their audience 

The brand’s ‘Want It All’ campaign exemplifies their use of the hero archetype perfectlyThe 2017 film follows a young boy on his mission to become a basketball hero, during which time he faces struggles but is, of course, ultimately successful - making the viewer feel as if they can be, too.  

Why You Should Use Storytelling in Your Presentations 

Presentations should be no different from any other brand activity (even if you're pitching internally!). So, the hero’s narrative can be easily applied to make them more effectiveIn fact, using a storytelling technique to develop a presentation works even more successfully than in other traditional marketing activities due to their performative nature.  

storytelling in presentations

Let’s face it, we’ve all sat through a boring presentation counting down the minutes until it’s over. But, the hero’s journey can make this a thing of the past, turning your presentation into an enjoyable story for the audience. 

Using this narrative to structure your presentation even enables you to position your audience as either the hero or helper of the tale, making them an active participant and increasing their engagement.  

How to Use the Hero’s Journey in Your Presentations 

Let’s say you’re presenting a sales pitch to a potential new client. The presentation will start at Act 1, The Departure. During the initial slides you’ll want to set the scene of where your client (the hero) is currently 

The following slides comprise the second Act, in which problems are confronted. You can use these slides to establish the issues with your audience’s current way of doing things and explain why they need to overcome them. It is then that you can introduce your product or service as a way to help them beat those problems, allowing you to become the helper in the story.  

In the conclusion of your presentation, employ the motif of the hero's triumphant ‘return home’ to explain what your viewer's future could look like with the help of your brand.   

Storytelling in TED Talk Presentations  

TED Talks regularly showcase some of the best presentations in the world, and one of the most popular TED Talks of all time follows the narrative of the hero’s journey. Jill Bolte Taylor’s 2008 presentation discusses her experience of suffering a stroke at the age of 37walking the audience through her transformative journey.  

TED Talk

Bolte Taylor begins by establishing her existing worldher job and day-to-day life as she knows it. The audience embarks on her journey with her when she wakes one morning to discover that she is experiencing a stroke.  

Her challenge is clear - she is gravely ill. However, during the initial stroke, and her 8 years of rehabilitation, she learns to look at the two hemispheres of the brain in an entirely new way, transforming her way of thinking forever. The ‘return home’ for this hero is in her eventual recovery and new outlook on both life and the brain.  

The presentation was such a success that iwas one of the first TED Talks to gain viral attention, quickly becoming the 2nd most viewed talk of all time. And with over 26 million views it remains popular to this day. 

A recent viewer even highlighted on the success of Bolte Taylor's use of the hero archetype, commenting ‘her narrative is so charming and she explains it as though we live it’, perfectly demonstrating the power of the hero’s journey.  

So, What Are You Waiting For? 

Head of TED, Chris Anderson, who regularly advises TED Talks speakers, has said that ‘when [he thinks] about compelling presentations, [he thinks] about taking an audience on a journey’. And what better way to do that than with the most popular narrative journey of all time 

For expert advice on how you can use storytelling to enhance your presentations, get in touch using the button below.  

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January 28, 2021

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