Think about your Meeting’s Story Arc

When creating a presentation or developing the agenda for a meeting, it’s tempting to jump into writing the content, and then refine and organize it later. Fight that urge — instead you should start by mentally ‘stepping back’ and thinking about the big picture (as a recovering engineer, this is often very hard to do) and think about what you’re trying to accomplish in the meeting, who will be in the meeting, what you want to accomplish (e.g. inform them, persuade them, obtain their approval), and then craft an outline that aligns with what you’re focused on accomplishing and tailored to the people you’ll be presenting to or meeting with.

Think about it like a story arc — what is the story you want to tell, and how do you want it to unfold in a way that will resonate with this group. This may feel touchy-feely to you, but it becomes incredibly important if you’re meeting with people who you don’t have great rapport with, or who work in other department and have different priorities, or who are very busy and will be distracted in your meeting.

Consider if you are meeting with someone who just wants the Executive Summary/Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF) slide/page, and that’s all they want to see. Or if you’re meeting with a group of people who want a lot of numbers and facts that build up to recommendation, so it’s well justified. Think about if this is a introductory/get-to-know-you style meeting, or one where the agenda needs to be tight, efficient, and accomplish specific objectives before the meeting time runs out.

For longer meetings, it can be worth actually thinking about your presentation in the context of classic storytelling techniques, such as:

  • Act I: Set the scene, introduce your characters, the context, the challenges
  • Act II: Work through the process of identifying options, evaluating the trade-offs, and working towards the resolution
  • Act III: Resolve the problem with your recommendation

Donald Miller writes about making your audience the hero of the stories you tell as a leader, instead of yourself. Think about their perspective, invest some time and energy in empathizing with them, and you’ll able crafting a designing a dramatically better meeting experience for them and you.


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