Why Great Presentations Require Tension and Discovery

November 24, 2014

tension-and-discovery-title-blogA few years ago, I read a great book by Walter Anderson called The Confidence Course: Seven Steps to Self-Fulfillment. For starters, it’s a great book on self-improvement, but it also offers some great tips and tricks on the topic of storytelling. One major takeaway is Anderson’s focus on the topic of applying tension and discovery when sharing stories. It’s a simple technique that applies a ton of value unlike some other complicated storytelling styles.

If you are fan of Hollywood or the work of individuals like the Robert McKee (famous for his Story Seminars), you are probably aware that there are dozens of different ways to share a story. For instance, you have classic styles like The Heroic Journey, The Underdog, and The Present/Future approach. But all can get a bit too stylistic and complicated in regards to a presentation. However, the style of tension and discovery is easy and it works almost every time.

Do you remember seeing Steven Speilberg’s classic Jaws? If so, do you remember the haunting sounds of the cello or seeing the creepy shark fin peeking above the water? Both leave you in suspense for 80% of the movie until finally the great white shark reveals itself in the end. It's one amazing "A-ha" moment. That's the power of tension and discovery.

Here's another example: Borrowing from Hollywood again, do you remember the movie The Sixth Sense? If you have had the pleasure of seeing this movie, then you’ll remember the scene where Malcolm Crowe (played by Bruce Willis) is trying to reassure Cole. He comforts him by telling him a very short story. Here it is:

“Once upon a time there was this person named Malcolm. He worked with children. He loved it. He loved it more than anything else. And then one night, he found out that he made a mistake with one of them. He couldn’t help that one. And he can’t stop thinking about it, he can’t forget. Ever since then, things have been different. He’s not the same person that he used to be. And his wife doesn’t like the person that he’s become. They barely speak anymore, they’re like strangers. And then one day Malcolm meets this wonderful little boy, a really cool little boy. Reminds him a lot of the other one. And Malcolm decides to try and help this new boy. ‘Cause he feels that if he can help this new boy, it would be like helping that other one too.”

You will notice that it starts with a moment of tension and ends with a moment of discovery. As brief as it is, you feel worry and then you feel hope. That is great storytelling and it will work for your next presentation.

These same emotions can be created with your next talk. That’s because the technique of tension and discovery does the following:

1. It Creates Engagement

Great presentations are about engagement and about keeping audiences interested. If you want to easily engage your audience and have them hold on to your every word, then you need to deploy this technique because it keeps audiences in suspense, anxiously awaiting your discovery moment.


2. It Works

Studies have proven that storytelling has been around for more than 40,000 years and increases retention by up to 26%. Those stats alone provide plenty of justification to apply the storytelling tactic of tension and discovery to your next presentation.

3. It Will Make You Memorable

Storytelling is such a major buzzword these days. Everyone is talking about it but often times people will neglect to use it within their presentations. The good news? You’ll stand out and defeat the status quo by utilizing this style since you will actually apply storytelling rather than just talk about it.

Tension and discovery. It’s beautiful. It’s powerful. And, it will add a ton of value to your next presentation.

Author Bio

Scott Schwertly is the author of How to Be a Presentation God and CEO of Ethos3, a Nashville, TN-based presentation boutique providing professional presentation design and training for national and international clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to branded individuals like Guy Kawasaki. If Scott is not working with his team building presentations, you will find him in the pool, on the bike, or on a long run. Scott lives in Nashville, TN with his wife and three dogs. He has a B.A. and M.B.A. from Harding University.

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