Home » Nancy Duarte Discusses Common Structure of Greatest Communicators at TEDxEast (Transcript)

Nancy Duarte Discusses Common Structure of Greatest Communicators at TEDxEast (Transcript)

Nancy Duarte at TEDxEast conference

Full text of Nancy Duarte, an expert in presentation design and CEO of Duarte Design, uncovers common structure of greatest communicators at TedxEast conference.

Listen to the Audio MP3: TEDxEast – Nancy Duarte uncovers common structure of greatest communicators – Audio MP3


It’s really, really great to be here. You have the power to change the world. I’m not saying that to be cliché, you really have the power to change the world. Deep inside of you, every single one of you has the most powerful device known to man. And that’s an idea.

So a single idea, from the human mind, it can start the ground swell, it could be a flash point for a movement, and it can actually rewrite our future.

But an idea is powerless if it stays inside of you. If you never pull that idea out for others to contend with, it will die with you.

Now maybe some of you guys are trying to convey your idea, and it wasn’t adopted, it was rejected and some other mediocre or average idea was adopted. And the only difference between those two is in the way it was communicated. Because if you communicate an idea in a way that resonates, change will happen, and you can change the world.

In my family, we collect these vintage European posters. Every time we go to Maui, we go to the dealer there, and he turns these great big posters. I love them. They all have one idea, and one really clear visual that conveys the idea. They are about the size of a mattress. They are really big, they’re not as thick as a mattress, but they are big.

And the guy will tell the stories as he turns the pages. And there was one time I was flanked by my two kids, and he turns the page and this poster is underneath, and right when I leaned forward and say, “Oh my god, I love this poster.” Both of my kids jumped back and they are like “Oh my god, mom, it’s you.”

And this is the poster. See I’m like “Fire it up!”

The thing I loved about this poster was the irony. Here’s this chick all fired up, headed into battle, as the standard there, and she’s holding these little Suavitos baking spices, like something so seemingly insignificant, though she’s willing to risk, you know, life and limb to promote this thing.

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So if you are to swap out, swap out those little Suavitos baking spices with a presentation. Yeah, it’s me, pretty fired up. I was fired up about presentations back when it wasn’t cool to be fired up about presentations. I really think they have the power to change the world when you communicate effectively through them.

And changing the world is hard. It won’t happen with just one person with one single idea. That idea has got to spread, or it won’t be effective. So it has to come out of you and out into the open for people to see.

And the way that ideas are conveyed the most effectively is through story. You know, for thousands of years, illiterate generations would pass on their values and their culture from generation to generation, and they would stay intact. So there’s something kind of magical about a story structure that makes it so that when it’s assembled, it can be ingested and then recalled by the person who’s receiving it.

So basically a story, you get a physical reaction, your heart can race, your eyes can dilate, you could talk about, “Oh I got a chill down my spine” or, “I could feel it in the pit of my stomach”. We actually physically react when someone is telling us a story. So even though the stage is the same, a story can be told, but once a presentation is told, it completely flatlines.

And I wanted to figure out why. Why is it that we physically sit with wrapped attention during a story, but it just dies for a presentation.

So I wanted to figure out, how do you incorporate story into presentations. So we’ve had thousands of presentations back at the shop – hundreds of thousands of presentations actually, so I knew the contexts of a really bad presentation. I decided to study cinema, and literature, and really dig in and figure out what was going on and why it was broken.

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So, I want to show you some of the findings that led up to what I think of – I’ve uncovered as a presentation form. So it was obvious to start with Aristotle, he had a three act structure, a beginning, a middle and an end, studied poetics and rhetoric, and a lot of presentations don’t even have that in its most simple form.

And then when I moved on to studying hero archetypes I thought, “Okay, the presenter is the hero, they are up on the stage, they’re the star of the show.” It’s really easy to feel that way, as the presenter, that you are the star of the show. I realized right away, that that’s really broken. Because I have an idea, I can put it out there, but if you guys don’t grab that idea and hold it as dear, the idea goes nowhere and the world is never changed. So in reality, the presenter isn’t the hero, the audience is the hero of our idea.

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