Storytelling In Business Presentations With Freytag’s Pyramid & 10/20/30 Rule

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Have you experienced losing your audience within few minutes of start presenting a PowerPoint? This is very common. Death-by-Powerpoint probably we all have experienced it, more often than we would like. Most presentations rely on graphs and bullet points, squeeze in as much text as possible. As the presenter starts reading from the PowerPoint, and the audiences realize it, they read ahead, faster than the presenter. Once they take in the key information, there is not much left for them to focus on. Time for a nap!

A presenter’s success is measured by the amount of time he manages to keep the audience engaged. The business presentation can be in the form of a marketing plan presented to the management or investors, a product launch demo, or a business strategy review. No matter what you present, you need to sell the story well. An unengaged presentation is often a cost to the businesses in terms of money, time, and opportunity. It is not only about creating a first impression, you should be able to keep the audience engaged throughout the entire time you are presenting.

10/20/30 Rule

In 2005, Guy Kawasaki, a renowned venture capitalist, after listening to hundreds of Powerpoint from enthusiastic entrepreneurs, devised the 10/20/30 rule¹ to transform Powerpoint presentations into an engaging discussion. The 10/20/30 rule is still relevant and is the building block for any good Powerpoint presentation. Put simply, Guy Kawasaki’s golden rule of Powerpoint stands for:

Not More Than 10 Slides

Maximum of 20 minutes presentation

The minimum font size of 30

Guy Kawasaki evangelize 20 minutes presentation leaves 40 minutes for discussion. This is a great ratio to aim for as it elevates audience participation and engagement.

The limit in the number of presentation slides at 20 and minimum font size of 30 means less text and shorter sentences. The practice makes the presentation crisp and removes nonessential points. A well-crafted presentation unfolds overarching plots that cover the business problem and the transformation. Change is necessary for an effective presentation. Seth Godin² had mentioned in one of his blogs that,

A presentation that doesn’t seek to make change is a waste of time and energy.

Freytag’s Pyramid

Freytag’s Pyramid (sometimes called, Freytag’s Triangle) enables us with the framework to tell the change story. Gustav Freytag was a 19th-century German playwright. His framework outlines the seven key steps in successful storytelling: Exposition, Inciting Incident, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, Resolution, and Denouement.

Seven steps of Freytag’s Pyramid from the book Die Technik des Dramas³ by Gustav Freytag

The story arc helps the audience feel empathy for the main character. The audience starts living in the character’s world and experiences the complexities of their problem. This gives a chance to the presenter to persuade the audiences to believe in his idea, and influence them to buy a product or subscribe to a service. By committing a purchase the audience feels relieved from the character's problem. Depending on the pitch, the audience may also believe in contributing to a larger goal.

The first step in Freytag’s Pyramid is Exposition. The presenter at this step should ley out the character, and background information. The Inciting Incident is the second step. The incident disrupts the status quo, forces the character to go through a journey. Thus unfolding the story. The Raising Action builds up the event of the story. The problem the character tries to solve and gets more complicated. The Climax is also known as the Turning Point, the planning and decision-making for the rest of the story. The Falling Action is the part where the character tactically handles the conflicts and challenges. Resolution is the part where the character overcomes all the challenges. The denouement part brings the story to an end and establishes a new status quo.

Freytag’s Pyramid Example in Modern Marketing

(Marketing Idea / Product Launch / Explainer Video)

DollarShaveClub.com used Freytag’s Pyramid to tell its brand story in the form of an Explainer video. Explainer videos are a type of Business Presentation. These short online marketing videos are used to explain a company’s product or service.

Exposition: During the exposition, we are introduced to our main character, the setting (DollarShaveClub factory, present-day), and the supporting characters (the employee, and the users).

Inciting incident: It occurs when users get to know, how name brands use the money they paid in sponsorship.

Rising Action: The action rises when our main character simplifies the need, which is just a good blade! He explains how buying a blade could be tedious.

Climax: The climax happens when our main character tells us that they will ship a ‘good’ blade every month directly to the customer's address.

Falling Action: Our protagonist further mentions the way they create jobs for the local and the needy.

Denouement: The employees are happy working at the company. They got the job they needed. The users are happy, as they can save more by switching to DollarShaveClub and spend their money elsewhere.

Freytag’s Pyramid in Business Review and Strategy Planning Presentation

Business review and strategy planning presentation can also follow Freytag’s Pyramid framework, in a slightly modified format.

Current Situation: This is a setting where the problem will arise and the solution will come to the rescue. The current situation explains the performance of the business so far. The presenter can explain additional details like customer research, competitor analysis to create a stage.

The Problem: At this step, the presenter needs to explain the problem. The explanation should be detailed and dramatic, where needed. The presenter needs to explain what is stopping the business from achieving its goal. Despite the problem, reassure the audience that there are reasons to hope. The perceived value of the solution is proportionate to the complexities of the problem.

Solution: The presenter needs to introduce the strategic solution for the problem. The solution can be in form of an optimization plan or some super product/service to solve the problem. The Presenter should explain how the audience can help. If the audience feels that they are part of the solution, they will become a powerful ambassador for the strategic move.

How It Works: The presenter has to convert the solution into tactical goals, the process should look exciting. In the case of strategic optimization, at this step, he needs to explain a project plan with a timeline and measurable milestones. For super product/service this could be some case study or explanation of the steps that the user needs to take.

Call To Action: The presenter should end smoothly with timing, cost, and a clear Call To Action. The audience should know what to do next. This could be buying the product or subscribing to the service. Call To Action should be easy to follow. The audience should be able to commit immediately if desired.

Storytelling is about triggering emotional reactions. Joy 😀, surprise 😯, sadness 😔, anger 😡, fear 😱, and disgust 😖. The presenter should be able to design a rollercoaster emotional ride for the audience throughout his presentation. In a successful and engaging business presentation, The presenter should be able to relieve his audience from negative emotions and direct them for joy in most cases.

Data-driven digital media marketer and brand communication strategist. Experienced in lead generation, paid media promotion and SaaS product management.