Great Stories Have Contrast, Not Conflict

Many very smart people will tell you that a good story has a structure: situation, conflict, resolution. And that’s ONE way to structure a story and the one that Hollywood depends on most. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back.

But you don’t need conflict in a story. Rather, you need CONTRAST. That is, a change in emotion from one extreme to another: sadness changes to happiness, despair changes to hope, hurt changes to forgiveness.

Conflict is often used to generate the initial emotion (eg. boy loses girl) and resolution leads to the opposite emotion (boy gets girl back). But you can have story without conflict, as long as you have contrast.

I love this video, which is a good example of telling a story through contrast. There is no conflict, but the story starts with isolation and ends with friendship, reinforcing the main point: disconnect to connect. Notice how even the MUSIC uses contrast to reinforce the story, changing suddenly from introspective to upbeat.

This is often referred to a “taking the audience on a journey”. A journey from where to where? From one emotion to its opposite emotion. And you can use this same technique to structure your own presentations, whether they are business presentations, sales presentations, educational lectures or conference presentations.

In the immortal “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. takes you on a journey from despair to hope, from contempt to brotherhood. The journey is from one emotion to its opposite emotion.

We see this at work in Hans Rosling’s TED talk. Using Ikea boxes, he takes us on a journey from a mostly poor and needy world to a mostly well-off and aspiring world. Not conflict, but contrast.

That’s storytelling. The contrast of one emotion at the beginning with its opposite emotion at the end. Try that in your next presentation.

About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the New Language of Business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.