Nancy Duarte


Beyond Resonate: Start a Movement Through Stories of Transformation

Key Takeaways

On persuasive story patterns:

What happens is when you listen to really great speeches they have a cadence to them. It's like you want to lean forward and it's just like storytelling, but yet speeches also have a lot of information and it's not like a story that has one specific arc.

After reading hundreds of speeches, plus the hundreds of thousands of slides that we've done here at the shop and studying story, I actually found a pattern that nobody had ever seen before, that the greatest presenters ease up on the tension and release, and then they create tension and releases and that's what creates that energy. That's when they describe the gap between what is and what could be, what is and what could be.

Contrast is such a powerful human tool that we always want to see how things are even the same or things are different. When you establish what is and contrast with what could be, suddenly what currently is isn't appealing when we contrast it with how great it could be with your idea adopted.

On prophetic imagination:

I get to prophesy what I think the future is going to look like, and then if I can poetically and articulately determine how people will imbue the future, what it's going to look like when they live in the future, then I've created my own future.

I think the thing that's interesting about a movement is its mass. It's massive amounts of people. It's not one person that's going to trigger this glorious thing. We looked at movements and we looked at expeditions, because if you look at the thought of an expedition, especially dangerous ones and ones like Lewis and Clark, right? They went into the unknown thinking it was going to unfold a certain way and it didn't.

There's something about when you're trying to move people into the unknown, hoping it's a better place, but you don't really know, but you have to communicate it as this really big thing.

There are stages in your little episode. There are little stages and things you have to plan out. You have to make sure you're prepared and you're saying the right thing at this moment, and you're using the right type of story here. When the heat of battle, they need an opposition story that's going to inspire them. When they're doing a long hard climb, it was just different things you needed at different stages of your expedition

On transformational speeches:

It's in the degree of transformation. The reason we like story is because humans love to study transformations. I think it's hardwired into our ecosystem through the seasons of birth and death and rebirth, just with winter, spring, summer, fall. But I think when we're looking at other humans, we like to look at them and compare ourselves to them, just like with contrast. "Am I like that person? Would I make those decisions? Am I smarter than them? Would I make better decisions? What can I learn from this person? Did he understand the moral? I would understand the moral." You're constantly comparing your own life with the adventured life that the person you're observing.

We're fascinated with transformation. I do think the better stories are the ones where you set up the protagonist as a likeable person you want to root for. Then they go through pretty hellish stuff, and they changed not only on the outside, but on the inside too.

I think that sometimes we're afraid to tell stories that work because it feels like it's exposing us. "I feel really exposed. I don't want to talk about this disaster that happened to me." But I would follow a leader that talks about his personal disasters before I would follow one who pretends he's never had any.

On telling personal and corporate stories:

I think that it's important as leaders and communicators that people understand not only our personal stories, but look at our corporate stories. What's our origin story? Should we tell that? What's the story when we found our calling? What did that look like and how is that inspiring? There are corporate stories everyone should tell, and then there are personal stories of strength that you need to tell yourself too.

On Sparkline as a form, not a formula:

I think if you look at music as a metaphor, if you look at the sonata, specifically. It's a three-act musical structure, yet Beethoven, Mozart, they both expressed the sonata form very different. My inspiration for the word form instead of formula was that and is a form for an enormous amount of room of expression.

That's why we did analyze the contrast in three different sonatas, and it's all online and you can actually visually see the contrast, but they sound so different. I do feel there's an enormous amount of room for self-expression in it, unless people do try to use it as a formula. That's where it starts to wind up breaking and becoming a problem when it's a formula.

We try to make it clear that it's really more of an analysis tool. Write your speech and feel like, "I've nailed it. This is my speech." Then analyze it to the form, because if you try to create it using the form, it becomes less formulated.

On her creative process:

I see things in pieces and then once I collect all the pieces I see systems. It's been fun for me, but maybe frightening for my co-author because I go, "Plat it up on the wall. Get reactions. Plat it up again," these partially conceived ideas where she likes to like, "Let's fully develop the idea before we show anyone" "No, let's just get reactions to it."

It's really ugly, really messy, really partially formed. I literally—my creative process, I could show you, but I don't want to embarrass my friend. I literally pull clip art from the Internet to try to—because I don't want to bug the designers so I play around with shapes and forms and concepts. Clip art is a strong word. I'm using symbols for a placeholder copy.

All of my books are basically slide docs. Every spread has one title and everything on the page supports that one concept with pictures and images and words. I create it in PowerPoint. I open it up. I'm like, "What am I intended to write today?" I'll go to this slide. "Oh, yeah. I don't know. I'm tired of that." I spend 10 minutes over here. "Oh, no. I'm going to move." I am a hummingbird. I get little fragments of sentences scattered all over, and then I sit down and write the page.

On engaging the audience:

That's how you inspire people. You get them out of a state of apathy by getting them to feel an agitating emotion. An agitating emotion could be anger, which is what I think he felt. But it gets them to act or it can be joy. It can be, "Oh, my god. The joy of this journey. I'm going to jump in and be active." But you will want them to go from rest to apathy or sadness or whatever is no longer a resting state. You want to do or say something provocative enough to get them to tear the plastic wrap off the magazine and put it away.

I think the unease, you have to make the status quo or what is uncomfortable because if they're not uncomfortable with how it is, they love how it is. If you get someone who loves how it is, they're going to protect it to keep it the same. You have to make it—we have to make them believe and I don't believe you're trying to manipulate. I really do think you're trying to do a decision that's for the greater good, hopefully. That they need to feel unrest with the current state of affairs.

I did that once. I did this manipulative, the-sky-is-falling, the iceberg-is- melting and it completely backfired on me, so you also have to be really sincere. I was right. Everything I said was right and the economic downturn happened, but I didn't present it in a way that was credible to my team and we lost attraction internally, so it's kind of one of those cautionary tales too.

You can't use emotion to manipulate.

On star moments:

I think every presentation should have something that is provocative enough and interesting enough that when you're done people are like, "Oh, my gosh! Did you see that presentation? Do you remember they said that?" Or, "Do you remember they demonstrated that?" Or, "Remember when they did whatever or said whatever? Remember that piece of data? I'll never forget that piece of data."

I think a lot of the TED talks have these little dramatizations. I'm going to throw condoms in the audience. I'm going to release mosquitos or whatever. It doesn't have to be that. Those are definitely props. A prop can be Jill Bolte Taylor brings out a brain. Props are definitely effective.

But data could be this shocking statistic. It could be an image, an evocative image. It's just so evocative and emotional. That can be it. It can be anything, but it should be something they remember. It doesn't have to be melodramatic. It can just be, "Oh, my gosh! We need to take action on that one slide. Remember that slide that had that shape on it? We've got to make that shape go up and not down." It can be something totally practical, too, but it should be something they remember.

It could be a phrase. It could be a rally cry. People don't realize that Obama's Change campaign, Hope came out of a speech. He gave a speech to an audience. It resonated with it. It became the rally cry for his campaign, not that our hope has not been dashed. The people came up with that phrase, and that was because it was a memorable phrase that became the star moment. There are things—all kinds of things can be a star moment.

On nerves:

The reason we get nervous is it's the fight-or-flight instinct. We think that walking out there we're going to be attacked emotionally, even if it's emotionally or psychologically. We think, "It might be me," or "I look like I dress dorky." Whatever is going on in our mind. We think when we turn the corner somebody is going to be displeased or someone is not going to like us.

I get nervous when I'm doing really new material and I feel like I might stumble, or I get nervous when there are luminaries in the audience. I spoke in India. Literally, James Cameron and Deepak Chopra are in the front row. I was pretty nervous and I was on medication. I had a chest cold, so I was heavily medicated. I didn't do it perfect and I sounded great, but I couldn't believe it. I was pretty nervous. Those kinds of things make me nervous. Do I care if James Cameron enjoyed my talk? Will he remember me? No. But it was still intimidating.

Yeah, I learn how to breathe and calm myself down. I use some yoga breathing techniques where you breathe in really deep, and then you breathe in a couple more times shallow breaths. But the thing that I do that works the best is a tip that Nick Morgan wrote about in his book. I really admire his work. He said that obviously what's happening is a chemical reaction, an uncontrolled chemical reaction to fear. You want to flip your chemistry and put dopamine in your system.

He said what you need to do is think of someone you love deeply, deeply, deeply, but you have not seen them in a really long time. As I'm reading this in the book, I'm like, "Oh, my son. I haven't seen him in forever." I could feel my posture change just while I was reading the book. He says, "Think about that person to the point of longing to see them, and then in your mind, picture that when you turn around the corner and walk on stage they're going to be right there."

It does chemically change your body, which is what you want to do because you've got all this anxiety that's coursing through your system, this fear. That's what I do now. I try to get myself in a different state.

 What does it mean to speak like a pro?

People who speak like a pro are the ones who become more and more professional as they go, in the sense of investing in their communication and skill-set. They learn to become a better communicator. I’ve seen people who do this go from manager to VP in six months or they close a $400 million deal. We just had someone in the New York Times a month ago say that because he applied the methodologies in my book, he made $760 million more last year than this year. Amazing!

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