As this post is being published, David Intrator, our Chief Meaning Officer, will be delivering a talk at the Quirk’s Event in Brooklyn entitled “You’re Boring Me | How Story Structure Keeps People From Tuning Out.”

Intrator, who was awarded Best Presentation at last year’s Brooklyn Quirks event, will be continuing his discussion of storytelling, this year exploring the importance of story structure to audience engagement.

For those of you who can’t make it to Quirk’s, we thought we’d give a brief synopsis here.

Story Structure Is Key To Audience Engagement

Story structure is often overlooked in contemporary discussions of business storytelling. Emphasis is more often placed on the need for authenticity.

Authenticity is important, of course, but authenticity is not enough. Stories need to be properly structured in order to hold an audience’s attention, and deliver them something meaningful and memorable.

Story structure is a series of formal decisions one makes when developing a story. These can include the medium in which the story will be presented, it’s length, the number of sections and their relation to one another, the pace, the overall look and feel, and most importantly, which data should be included and which left out.

Ideally, all of these decisions should lead to a structure that supports the story’s Unifying Idea, i.e., its thesis or central assertion.

Story structure is key to storytelling in all mediums, whether photography, painting, music, architecture, logo design or, of course, business communications.

Three Useful Structures For Market Research Storytelling

Here are a trio of structures that are helpful for market researchers. They can be employed as is, or used as a basis for customized solutions.

Hamburger Structure: This is a three-part structure you probably learned about in high school:

  • Say what you’re going to say
  • Say it
  • Say what you said

Think of the top bun of a hamburger: that’s your thesis. The meat between the buns are your support points. And the bottom bun is a sum-up restating your thesis.

Thread Structure: Here one weaves the central theme or thesis throughout the story, returning to it again and again. Think of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, or a song in which the chorus alternates with the verse, reappearing throughout.

Hollywood 3-Act Structure: Anyone who’s studied screen writing has heard about this one. And it’s the basis of many Hollywood movies. 3-Act structure is basically problem/solution.

Act 1: The setup, which ends with the introduction of a problem for the main character.

Act 2: The conflict the main character undergoes as he or she tries to overcome the problem.

Act 3: The resolution of the problem.

One of the most famous variants of Hollywood 3-Act Structure is “Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl.”

Another variant is what we call Inverted 3-Act. In this case, instead of introducing a problem at the end of Act 1, we open Act 1 with a problem and introduce an opportunity at its end. Act 2 explores and intensifies the opportunity, all of which is summed-up in Act 3.

Story Structure Helps Turn Data Into Meaning

Along with having a Unifying Idea, story structure helps to bring order out of chaos, and translates what otherwise would be incoherent data points into an intelligible and meaningful whole.

It creates a path along which you guide your audience towards your central assertion.

This provides them with a sense of security, that they’re in good hands, and that the story is taking them someplace.

It’s this feeling of being on a journey that keeps people engaged, tuned in as they join the storyteller at every step along the way.

And that guarantees your presentations will lead your team to action each and every time.

Think about a research initiative on which you’re working – and consider which of the three structures we’ve discussed might best work as a framework within which you can communicate what you’ve learned to your business partners.  Or call us and we’ll be glad to help guide you!

To learn more about story structure, check out our online storytelling course
From Data To Meaning | Storytelling For Market Research