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After going through Part 1 of “How to get a conference presentation“, you should have a core message and a target audience. Now, you can focus on how to communicate it in a way that is engaging for your audience. In this part, we will identify the parts of the talk and align them to a narrative. Learn the key elements of crafting your message into a consumable story.

Telling a story

Why tell a story?

You can probably recall the best and worst classes in your educational career. For me, the classes I looked forward to were lead by engaging teachers who told great stories. We are hardwired to communicate in stories. Without them we would not have an emotional connection to the lessons. The message would be lost.

How do you tell a story?

The basic mechanics of a story need a setting, a main character, and vehicle to move the audience from beginning to end. There are other elements to add that bring the audience in (e.g. mood, tension, antagonist, etc.). If your talk is a story, the audience should feel the main character’s shift in emotion through hardship that alters his or her character over time.

Crafting a message: the breakdown of a storyline

The basic breakdown of a storyline. Show where the situation changes to challenge the protagonist.

Nonetheless, the mix of all of these things should lead the main character along a path of transformation.

Crafting your talk into a story

How to connect your message to a story?

We can now focus on the message you want to communicate. Let’s assume a few things. The main character is you. You will talk about an experience that forever changed how you view the World. This experiences has left you with lessons that your audience needs to hear.

Start with the end

Start with the main takeaways. What are the three to four things you want your audience to walk away with? Plot those at the end of the timeline. By the end of your talk, these points should be clear to the audience.

Go to the beginning

What was your world before this experience? Describe the setting and how the world operated. This is an opportunity to go into details and even rabbit holes outlining mood and backstory. You can cut details later, but give yourself enough content to help people understand where the story started.

Use the storyline to organize your experience and takeaways along an engaging narrative.

Describe the shift

What changed in your world? Something forced you to wake up and get off your butt. Outline the elements that caused you some level of duress. What were those elements? Why were they so impactful? Put them into context for the audience. Give them a reason to emphasize with your situation.

Outline your actions

How did you respond? Take the audience from your initial reactions to discovering mistakes. When the paradigm shifted, you were operating under one set of rules that were probably incomplete or out of date. How did these rules serve you at that time? What were their shortcomings?

Show your mistakes and lessons

Be clear about the mistakes you had early on. These should have helped you recognize where you needed to adjust your approaches. You might even have a big ‘aha’ moment that can signal to the audience where you, the main character, have changed.

Show your new approaches

There should be a shift in how you do things. Describe the new thing(s) that are tools or resources you can access. How have they helped you in this new world? How can other people access those tools.

Return to your takeaways

At this point, you can reevaluate the takeaways. Do these still make sense? How would you order or reorder them by importance? Can you narrow them down to three?

Closing thoughts

You have a message that came out of a harrowing experience. To put some structure around the lessons, outline the message in cohesive story. Use the key elements of storytelling to capture your audience’s attention. Put in the work to engage them and better ensure they stay with you as you make important points.

Want to learn more about storytelling? Here is a great breakdown on Die Hard (

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Matt Eng

Matt Eng

DesignOps Manager. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ogilvy, RBC, Deloitte, Whirlpool, Polycom, Symantec, and Pebble. Matt teaches, mentors, and speaks about design, creativity, and fostering stronger connections within teams.